A three-bench Central Information Commission, has repeatedly questioned the representatives of the 20 members of Parliament whose IT returns were asked for under the Right to Information Act, on how disclosing of their IT returns was not in larger public interest.
The Public Information Officers who denied the information stating lack of larger public interest and the representatives of MPs/members of legislative assembly were invited for the hearing. While the appeal concerned 20 MPs/MLAs, the representatives of only 10 respondents appeared for the hearing to present their cases.
Of the 20 MPs whose IT returns were asked for under RTI, the details of only there MPs (Baju Ban Ryan (MP from Tripura East constituency of Tripura), Shafiqur Rahman Barq (MP from Sambhal constituency of Uttar Pradesh) and Usha Verma (MP from Hardoi constituency of UP ) were made available by the PIO.
The IT returns of others MPs were denied under various sections, such as 8(1)(j), 8(1)(d), 11(1) and 11(3) of the RTI Act. The RTIs of seven MPs were transferred but lost in transit, hence no information was available.
The Association for Democratic Reforms, which filed the RTI query, primary argument was that there is overriding public interest in IT returns of the MPs and that most of the requested information was already in public domain as the total income filed in the latest IT returns of all candidates have to be provided in their affidavits along with their nomination papers to the Election Commission of India.
Throughout the arguments, the CIC asked the respondents to focus on how disclosing the IT returns of the MPs would not be in larger public interest. But interestingly, no arguments were put forth by the PIOs of the IT department who had initially denied providing the information stating lack of public interest.
The ADR stated that the Supreme Court has deliberated in detail on this issue while directing the ECI to collect and make public the information on assets of the contesting candidates at the time of elections through affidavits.
The CIC has given a three-week period for the representatives of the MPs to provide a copy of their written submissions after which it will give its decision.