Delhi High Court Stays CIC Order Ordering IT Department to Disclose ITR Tax Exemption Details

The Delhi High Court on Thursday suspended a Central Information Commission (CIC) order ordering the Income Tax (IT) Department to provide details regarding the tax exemption granted to the PM Cares Fund in accordance with the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

A single bench of judges composed of Justice Yashwant Varma observed that the question of whether the PM Cares Fund is a public authority is pending before a divisional bench of the High Court. He ordered “Until the next registration date, there will be a suspension of the contested order of April 27, 2022.

Briefly, the facts of the case are that the IT department filed the present motion challenging the order issued by the CIC regarding a claim filed by the Mumbai-based activist Girish Mittal under Section 6 of the Act RTI. Through this application, Mittal requested details regarding the tax exemption granted to the PM Cares fund.

Mittal had requested copies of all documents submitted by the PM Cares Fund in its waiver application, copies of briefing notes granting approval, list of all waiver requests filed with IT on April 1 2019 to March 31, 2020 as well as the filing date and the date they were granted the exemption and any request that was denied along with the reasons for the denial.

This request was rejected by the CPIO/Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax (headquarters) (waiver) under section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act stating that the information requested was of a personal nature and were not related to any public activity. or interest and would result in an unwarranted invasion of an individual’s privacy.

The First Appeal Authority upheld the dismissal of the claim finding that although the PM CARES Fund was registered under the Registration Act 1908 and is a body owned, controlled and established by the Government of India , the Fund was entirely financed by donations received from individuals, organizations, CSRs, foreign individuals, etc. and which have not been funded by the government concerned. Because it was administered by private trustees, the Fund was found not to be a “public authority” within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

Mittal then contacted the CIC to challenge the order of the first appeal authority. The CIC decided the second appeal by stating that the RTI Act section 2(h) issue was unnecessarily dragged into the case since Mittal had not filed the RTI application with the PM Cares Fund, but with of a public authority itself.

The CIC ordered the CPIO to provide Mittal with information about the documents submitted by the Fund with its exemption request and copies of the filing notes granting the approval. However, the CIC denied Mittal’s request for information regarding exemption requests between April 2019 and March 2020, and details of the denied requests.

The IT department argued that CIC had disregarded the prohibition in section 138(l)(b) of the Income Tax Act, in which the special provisions governing the disclosure of “any information relating to an assessee received or obtained by a tax authority in the performance of its duties under this Actis addressed. It has been argued that the law stipulates that whether or not information should be disclosed in the public interest is at the discretion of the Senior Chief Commissioner, Chief Commissioner, Senior Commissioner or commissioner.

It was also argued that there was another prohibition which stated that the officer’s decision would be final and not be challenged by any court. The petitioner stated that whenever a statute provides for such a restriction, the same matter cannot be brought before another statutory authority under other legislation. Here, a special law would prevail over a general law.

The petitioner further argued that the Commission itself failed to implement its own previous decisions. It was argued that the information requested from the CPIO related to a third party, namely the PM Cares Fund, which was a registered trust and therefore the CIC order could not have been made without complying with the requirement of subsection (4) of section 19 of the RTI Act which requires that the third party in respect of whom information is sought be given an opportunity to be heard.

The Court noted that the instructions issued by the CIC, regarding Mittal’s request for information on the documents submitted by the Fund with its request for exemption and copies of the briefing notes granting the approval, were completely inconsistent and contradictory. with its request for information regarding exemption requests between April 2019 and March 2020, and details of rejected applications.

Thus, the court felt that the case should be considered and fixed the case for November 16. In the meantime, CIC’s order has been stayed.

CASE TITLE: CPIO/DY. COMMISSIONER FOR HQ INCOME TAX EXEMPTION, NEW DELHI v. GIRISH MITTAL

Click here to read the order

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