Financial Statements and Audit Report of School exempt under RTI Act

Financial Statements and Audit Report of School exempt under RTI Act. CIC denied disclosure in absence of any larger public interest

ABACUS Case Law Citation
ABCAUS 3367 (2020) (08) CIC

Important case law relied upon by the parties:
Shailesh Gandhi v. The Central Information Commission
CPIO Supreme Court of India v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal
Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commission & ors

In the instant case, the appellant was an Association of Parents who has challenged the order of the CPIO of the office of the Income Tax Officer (Exemption).

The appellant had filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) before the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) O/o. The Income Tax Officer (Exemption) seeking Balance Sheet along with Audit Report of last 10 years of a School.

The CPIO sent a third party notice u/s 11(1) of the RTI Act, 2005 to the said School which was answered in negative and denied its consent vide filing an objection letter. Accordingly, the CPIO denied such information as covered under exemption under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005.

Consequently, the appellant filed appeal u/s 19(3) of the RTI Act before the Central Information Commission (the Commission) requesting to take appropriate legal action against the CPIO u/s 20 of the RTI Act, 2005 and also to direct him to provide the sought for information.

The appellant stated that the CPIO should be directed to provide him the Balance Sheet and the Audit Report of the last 10 years of the School. It was contended that he was seeking information of an educational institution which performs ‘public activity’ and therefore, the information sought on behalf of the Registered Parents Association should be disclosed, as it does not qualify to be a third party information.

It was contended that the information was sought in the larger public interest on behalf of the Parents Association as its Secretary and therefore, the school could not be treated as ‘third party’ u/s 2(n) of the RTI Act, 2005 and therefore, the information should be disclosed.

The CIC stated that according to section 2(n) of the RTI Act, 2005, ‘third party’ means a person other than the citizen making a request for information and includes a ‘public authority’. Therefore, the appellant’s contention was devoid of any merit. In view of this the school being a ‘separate legal entity’ other than the appellant is treated as ‘third party’ u/s 2(n) of the RTI Act, 2005.

The CIC observed that the Hon’ble Supreme Court had held that the details disclosed by a person in his income tax returns are “personal information” which stand exempted from disclosure under clause (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, unless involves a larger public interest and the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the Appellate Authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.

With respect to the contention of the appellant that the said school was an educational institution which performs ‘public activity’, the CIC observed that the Bombay High Court had held that filing of Income Tax Returns can be no stretch of imagination be said to be a public activity, but is an obligation which a citizen owes to the State viz. to pay his taxes and since the said information is held by the Income Tax Department in a fiduciary capacity, the same cannot be directed to be revealed unless the pre-requisites for the same are satisfied.

The CIC held that the appellant could not established any larger public interest in the matter and was seeking exempted information which need not be disclosed.

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