The Right to Information Act, 2005 was brought in India after various political commitments and judicial interpretations to set up the practical regime for citizens and to promote transparency and accountability in working of public authority. But a person or an authority cannot seek the information relating to the section 8 of RTI act which contains an exemption from disclosure of information. A couple who owe their life to each other and promises to live together forever cannot be treated as the same entity in law. The legal world does not allow a wife to know personal details of her husband; similarly, a husband is also not allowed to know the personal details of his wife. RTI Act treats them as individual seeking information of the third party, neither of husband nor of the wife. The details relating to income tax of an individual are such information which is considered as personal which cannot be sought by anyone unless there is any public interest involved.
In India, every citizen has right to know any information relating to public authority, but it does not mean that they have right to breach someone else’s privacy .Income Tax is a type of tax or charge imposed by the central government on the annual gain or income of an individual, corporation derived through business, work , investments etc. It is obligated by Income Tax Act, 1961 that every entity has to file their taxable income or tax returns at the end of every financial year with Income Tax Department. For filing Income Tax Return, certain documents are needed such as salary slips, capital gains, Aadhar Card etc.
The Supreme Court has observed in various cases that the information relating to the income tax returns is counted in personal information. This type of personal information cannot be disclosed to anyone whether it would be one’s own wife or husband. The status of spouse in seeking disclosure of information is as equal as an unknown seeking the information. The Right to Information Act, 2005 does not consider husband and wife as a same entity, also there is no provision of providing personal information to one’s wife or husband.
Status of Wife
Wife is a female partner of a husband in a marital relationship. Although being a life partner of her husband, she does not have right to know the personal information of her husband. It has been interpreted and observed by courts in various cases that details of Income Tax Returns are also included in personal information of an individual.
An RTI request was made in January, 2012 by Mr. Gopalkrishnan, for disclosure of information of income tax returns to Sonia Gandhi’s from the year 2000 to 2011. When the Public Information Officer, Income Tax Department, Delhi asked Sonia Gandhi to respond to the request, then she clearly refused to provide the information stating that it is the intrusion of personal freedom and there is no public interest. Also, the Supreme Court of India has already held that “details of income tax returns, assets, liabilities, official orders and performance record of personal information are personal information and are exempted from disclosure under section 8(1)(j) unless there is any public interest at large or justifies the public interest for disclosure of information”. When there is a personal dispute between husband and wife, the exemption under section 8 (1) (j) cannot be disturbed or lifted unless the applicant is able to justify how such disclosure would be in “public interest”, the basic protection should be given to them.
In recent case of Smt. Basavantamma v. CPIO, Income Tax Office, the appellant Smt. Basavantamma who is wife of Mr. G H Sharanappa filed a request exercising her right to information under section 3 of Right to Information Act, 2005 seeking personal information of her estranged husband. The personal information sought was disclosure of details of income tax returns to defend her maintenance case. Respondent contended that detail of the some other individual is an exempted information under section 8(1) (j) of RTI Act, 2005. Prior appealing to the commission, the appellant filed application under RTI Act before Central Public Information Officer, Principal Chief Commissioner of Income Tax (CCA), Bangalore. But the CPIO had not given reply within the period of 30 days. On 7 July 2018, she first filed appeal in the first appellate authority which was later disposed off by the authority on 27 July 2018. Then she filed second appeal under section 19(3) before the commission for seeking details and to take legal action against the CPIO under section 20 of RTI Act, 2005.
However, the appeal was disposed on 24 July, 2020 with regard to the applicability of section 8(1) (j) of RTI Act, 2005 regarding the disclosure of Income Tax Return detail and it was observed that, “From the words circumscribed u/Section 2(n) of the RTI Act, 2005, it is vividly clear that any person other than the citizen making a request for information can be termed as ‘third party’. Therefore, Mr. G H Sharanappa being a person other than the RTI applicant surely comes within the definition of ‘third party’. Moreover, the CPIO has also not intended to disclose the information treating it as confidential and has rather pleaded that there is no public interest in the matter. This Commission also does not find any public interest which outweighs the harm caused in its disclosure.”
Not only wife but also a husband is not allowed to seek information of his wife. It can be understood by the case of Suman Paul v. Chief Commissioner of Income tax, wherein the appellant filed an application under RTI Act, 2005 seeking the personal information of his wife Bratati Ghosh regarding full description of last Income Tax Return and income details and the Income Tax Officer Ward 1(4), Burdwan denied the disclosure of information under section 8(1) (j) of RTI Act, 2005. Later the Central Information Commission disposed the appeal as appellant was not able to establish the larger public interest.
The Commission moreover observed that in several similar matters pertaining to disclosure of information of spouses, the Commission had held the view that Public Authorities may provide generic information of net taxable income/ gross income particulars of spouses to facilitate a fair decision in the matter by the Competent Authority. However, the Honorable High Court of Karnataka in the matter of Income Tax Officer and CPIO v. Smt. Jammula Padma Manjari had granted an interim stay on the decision of the Commission and disposed the matter which involved similar issue relating to disclosure of information of spouse.
Provisions under Right to Information Act, 2005 for Disclosure of Third Party Information
Right to Information Act, 2005 provides all citizens of India Right to Information under Section 3 of RTI Act. For obtaining information, a person shall make a request online or offline in Hindi or English or official language of the area accompanied by fee prescribed to Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer or the Central Assistant Public Information Officer or State Assistant Public Information Officer, as the case maybe, of the concerned public authority. Then the information officer shall check that whether the information sought belongs to any section 8 or 9 or 11 of the Act. He should check that the information sought should not belong to the exempted list of information given under section 8 of the act.
If the applicant has sought disclosure of information relating to third party defined under section 2(n) of the act, and the information officer intends to disclose the information, he shall give a notice to such third party within five days and shall invite him to make submission within 10 days of notice received. If information officer does not intend to disclose the information he shall reject the request within 30 days by quoting the reason. When third party agrees, then it should be observed that public interest in disclosure outweighs in importance any possible harm or injury to the interests of such third party. If the information involves any provision of section 8(1)(j), then the information officer may reject the request within 40 days by stating reason in notice. If the disclosure doesn’t include any such harm then information officer may disclose the information to the applicant. After that, if the third party is not satisfied with the decision then he may appeal against the decision under section 19 of RTI act.
As in the case of Thalappalam Service Coop. Bank Ltd. v. State of Kerala, there was a dispute between right to information and right to privacy, in which the court held that if the information sought in RTI application is personal and has no relation with public interest or activities then a public body is not legally bound to provide the information. Also in case of Anita Singh v. Ministry of External Affair, the respondent sought disclosure of personal information such as date of birth, residential address etc, of a passport holder. This type of information falls under the purview of Section 8(1) (j). However, the court held that there was absence of public interest at large and the personal information cannot be disclosed as it exempts the disclosure under section 8(1)(j).
Procedure of Appeal
The applicant or third party may appeal within 30 days from the expiry of 30 days from the submission of RTI request or from receipt of decision of information officer. The applicant or third party has to first appeal before First Appellate Authority (FAA) under section 19(1). FAA shall provide an opportunity of hearing to the appellate and shall dispose of first appeal within 30 days of the receipt of the Appeal or within such extended period not exceeding a total of 45 days from the date of filing thereof, as the case may be, for reasons to be recorded in writing under section 19 (6).
If an individual is not satisfied with the decision of FAA, then he can file second appeal before Second Appeal Authority (SAA), then the authority will hear the matter. Furthermore, if again the individual is not satisfied with the decision of SAA then the person can file a writ petition under Article 226 or Article 32 of the constitution in respective courts.
Hence, the wife or husband does not have any right to seek information relating to income tax returns of his/her spouse, as the details of income tax returns are personal details and there should be presence of public interest for disclosure of such information. Any information requested regarding the third party under RTI application shall not include exemption enshrined under section 8(1) (j) for disclosure, whether it is sought by wife or any other person. If the information of third person is sought then that information shall satisfy that the disclosure is necessary in larger public interest.
- Cases Referred:
- Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v.Central Information Commission & ors. (AIR 2012 SC Supp 690)
- Vijay Prakash v. UOI & others (AIR 2010 Del 7)
- Thalappalam Service Coop. Bank Ltd. v. State of Kerala ((2013) 16 SCC 82)
- Smt. Basavantamma v. CPIO, Income Tax Officer (CIC/CCITB/A/2018/631956)
- Suman Paul v. Chief Commissioner of Income tax (CIC/CCITK/A/2017/133064-BJ)
- Income Tax Officer and CPIO v. Smt. Jammula Padma Manjari (CIC/BS/A/2016/001440-BJ)
- Anita Singh v. Ministry of External Affair (CIC/SG/A/2012/000879/18681)
- Legislations Referred:
- Constitution of India
- Right to Information Act, 2005
- Income-tax Act, 1961
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can a wife seek information relating to income tax returns, assets, liabilities, official orders and performance record of personal information of her husband?
- What are the provisions under Right to Information Act, 2005 for disclosing information of third party?
- What remedies are provided to the appellant if the First Appellate Authority and Second Appellate Authority reject the appeal or decide the case against the appellant?
- Why a spouse is not entitled to know the personal details such as income tax return information of other spouse?
- What is the process of appeal under Right to Information Act, 2005?
 Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v.Central Information Commission & ors. AIR 2012 SC Supp 690
 Vijay Prakash v. UOI & others AIR 2010 Del 7
 (2013) 16 SCC 82