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PM Cares Fund: Delhi High Court Stays CIC Order Directing IT Department To Disclose Details Of Tax Exemption Under RTI

Padmakshi Sharma
8 July 2022 4:45 AM GMT
PM Cares Fund: Delhi High Court Stays CIC Order Directing IT Department To Disclose Details Of Tax Exemption Under RTI
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The Delhi High Court on Thursday stayed an order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) directing 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 judge bench comprising of Justice Yashwant Varma observed that the issue of whether the PM Cares Fund is a...

The Delhi High Court on Thursday stayed an order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) directing 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 judge bench comprising of Justice Yashwant Varma observed that the issue of whether the PM Cares Fund is a public authority is sub-judice before a division bench of the High Court. It ordered, "Till the next date of listing, there shall be stay of the impugned order dated 27 April 2022."

Briefly, the facts of the case are that the IT Department filed the instant petition challenging the order passed by the CIC in relation to an application filed by Mumbai-based activist Girish Mittal under Section 6 of the RTI Act. Through this application, Mittal sought details regarding the tax exemption granted to the PM Cares Fund.

Mittal had asked for copies of all documents submitted by the PM Cares Fund in its exemption application, copies of file notings granting the approval, list of all the exemption applications filed before the IT Department from 1st April, 2019 till 31st March, 2020 along with the date of filing and date on which they were granted exemption and any application that had been rejected along with reasons for rejection.

This application was rejected by CPIO/Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax (Headquarter)(Exemption) by virtue of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act stating that the information sought was personal in nature and was not related to any public activity or interest and would cause unwarranted invasion into the privacy of an individual.

The First Appellate Authority upheld the rejection of the Application by holding that though the PM CARES Fund had been registered under the Registration Act, 1908 and was a body owned by, controlled by and established by the Government of India, the Fund was completely financed by donations received from individuals, organizations, CSRs, Foreign individuals etc. and were not financed by the appropriate Government. Since it was administered by Private individual Trustees, it was held that the Fund was not a "public authority" under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

Mittal then approached the CIC challenging the Order of the First Appellate Authority. The CIC disposed the Second Appeal by stating that the issue of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act was being unnecessarily dragged into the matter since Mittal had not filed the RTI Application with PM Cares Fund, but with a public authority itself.

The CIC directed the CPIO to provide Mittal with information about documents submitted by the Fund with its exemption application and copies of file notings granting the approval. However, the CIC rejected Mittal's request for information regarding exemption applications between April 2019 and March 2020, and details of applications rejected.

The IT Department submitted that the CIC had failed to consider the statutory bar contained in Section 138(l)(b) of the Income Tax Act wherein the special provisions governing disclosure of "any information relating to any assessee received or obtained by any income tax authority in the performance of his functions under this Act" is dealt with. It was submitted that the statute stated that whether information should be disclosed in public interest or not is up to the discretion of the Principal Chief Commissioner, the Chief Commissioner, the Principal Commissioner or the Commissioner.

It was also submitted that there was a further bar which stated that the officer's decision would be final and shall not be called into question in any court of law. The petitioner stated that wherever a statute provides for such a restriction, the same issue cannot be open to examination by another statutory authority under another legislation. Here, special law would override a general law. 

The petitioner further argued that the Commission had itself failed to apply its own earlier decisions. It was submitted that the information sought from the CPIO was related to a third party i.e. the PM Cares Fund which was a registered Trust and therefore the order of CIC could not have been passed without complying with the requirement under sub-section (4) of section 19 of the RTI Act which requires that the third party with respect to whom information is sought must be given an opportunity of being heard. 

The Court noted that the directions issued by the CIC, regarding Mittal's request of information about documents submitted by the Fund with its exemption application and copies of file notings granting the approval, were wholly inconsistent and contradictory to his request for information regarding exemption applications between April 2019 and March 2020, and details of applications rejected.

Thus, the court opined that the matter required consideration and fixed the case for November 16. Meanwhile, the order of CIC was stayed.

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

Click Here To Read Order


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