The income tax department has given a "contradictory" response when asked for tax returns of political parties under the Right to Information Act, by first saying that the information is not held by it and then citing exemption clauses to refuse disclosing the information, an RTI activist claimed on Tuesday.
The Central Information Commission, the highest adjudicator of RTI matters, had ordered in 2008 that tax returns of political parties should be disclosed under the transparency law, a position which was repeatedly reflected in its orders later.
RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak approached the income tax department seeking tax returns filed by political parties in the last ten years.
"The applicant is hereby informed that, the requested information is not held as such, by the CPIO as registered information nor is the requested information required to be maintained as such by the CPIO, under extant rules or regulations," the RTI response said.
Citing a Supreme Court order, I-T Department's Central Public Information Officer said where the information sought is not part of the public authority's record and where it is not required to be maintained under any law or regulations, the act does not cast an obligation upon the public authority to collect or collate such non-available information and furnish it to the applicant.
The CPIO went on to cite five of the 10 exemption clauses of the RTI Act to underline that the sought information, not held by her, was exempt from disclosure.
She also cited another apex court order that stated the information related to matters of an assessee is personal information which stands exempt from disclosure under the RTI Act.
"The CPIO gave a totally contradictory reply to this RTI application. First she claimed that she does not hold the information. She also claimed that the information is not available in the desired form as explained in the RTI application. She cited a much-abused para from the CBSE judgement of the Supreme Court in support of her denial. Then she also claimed that five out of the 10 exemption clauses are applicable to the information sought," Nayak told PTI.
The RTI exemptions cited by the CPIO to deny information relate to intellectual property rights, trade secrets and information in the nature of commercial confidence, fiduciary relationship, threat to life and safety of persons who give information to law enforcement agencies in confidence, impediment to investigation, prosecution or apprehension and privacy of an individual.
"How can exemptions apply to information which she believes that she does not hold, nor even knows who is likely to have it is a big question that she has not looked at while issuing this contradictory reply," Nayak said.
Ordering the disclosure of income tax returns of political parties, the then Information Commissioner AN Tiwari had said it is recognized that political parties do need large financial
resources to discharge their myriad functions.
"But this recognition is tinged with the apprehension that non-transparent political funding could, by exposing political parties, and through it the organs of State which come under the control or its influence, to the corrupting influence of undisclosed money, can inflict irreversible harm on the institutions of government. There is public purpose in preventing such harm to the body-politic," he had said.