Delhi High Court stays CIC order on RTI on PM Cares Fund It allows taxpayers to claim deductions from various contributions made as donations to it The Delhi High Court has stayed the order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) directing the Income Tax Department to provide information and copies of documents submitted by the PM Cares Fund while applying for exemption under the...
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Delhi High Court stays CIC order on RTI on PM Cares Fund
It allows taxpayers to claim deductions from various contributions made as donations to it
The Delhi High Court has stayed the order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) directing the Income Tax Department to provide information and copies of documents submitted by the PM Cares Fund while applying for exemption under the Income Tax Act. The Fund was granted approval under the IT Act.
In addition, Justice Yashwant Varma issued a notice on the plea by the Central Public Information Officer/Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax - Headquarters (Exemption).
The IT department had challenged the order passed by the CIC on an application filed by Mumbai-based activist Girish Mittal under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The plea stated that the information was related to a third party (PM Cares Fund), which is a registered trust. Therefore, the CIC could not pass the order without giving the Fund an opportunity of being heard. It said that the CIC had failed to consider the statutory bar contained under the IT Act.
The department further said that the provision left it to the discretion of the Principal Chief Commissioner, the Chief Commissioner, or the Principal Commissioner on whether the information related to any assessee should be disclosed in the public interest or not.
"Additionally, there is a further bar, which states that his decision will be final and shall not be called into question in any court of law," the plea added.
Appearing for Mittal, Advocate Pranav Sachdeva argued that the IT department had granted an exemption to the PM Cares Fund 'very swiftly', apparently within a day. He submitted that since the Fund was owned and controlled by the government, it could not claim privacy.
Mittal's application, filed in May 2020, sought details regarding the tax exemption granted to the Fund. He had sought copies of all the documents submitted by the Fund in its exemption application and copies of file notings granting the approval.
In addition, he demanded a list of all the exemption applications filed from 1 April 2019 till 31 March 2020 and details of the rejected applications.
The CPIO denied sharing the information in June 2020, stating that the information was personal in nature and not related to any public activity or interest. It would cause an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of an individual.
However, Mittal challenged the order before the First Appellate Authority, which upheld the rejection of the application in August 2020. It held that the Fund did not fall within the purview of the RTI Act since it was not a public authority as defined under the Act.
This order was then challenged before the CIC, which in April 2022, directed the CPIO to provide information about the documents submitted by the Fund. However, the CIC rejected the request for information regarding exemption applications between April 2019 and March 2020, and details of the rejected applications.
The CIC held that the issue of the RTI Act had been unnecessarily dragged into the matter since Mittal had not filed the RTI application before the PM Cares Fund, but with a public authority.