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Informer has no right to incentive

Informer has no right to incentive
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The Section 138 of Income Tax Act, 1995 deals with disclosure of information relating to assessees, possible recipients, decision makers etc by Board...

The Section 138 of Income Tax Act, 1995 deals with disclosure of information relating to assessees, possible recipients, decision makers etc by Board or any other authority to any officer or authority or body performing functions under any other law as notified by the Central government, if necessary, in public interest, for the purpose of enabling the officer, authority or body to perform his or its functions under that law. Before RTI Act came, this is the RTI-related law for IT assessees.

In addition to this, the Chief Commissioner or Commissioner, on application of any person in prescribed form for any information relating to any assessee received or obtained by any I-T authority, if he is satisfied that it is in the public interest so to do, furnish or cause to be furnished the information asked for and his decision in this behalf shall be final and shall not be called in question in any court of law.

The Central government can issue a notification directly on what information could be furnished by a public servant, notwithstanding anything contained in subsection 1 or any other law. For instance in 2014, it was notified that the DG of IT (Systems), would give information about name, father’s name, residential address of tax payer of particular state/union territory, for purposes of implementation of National Food Security Act, 2013.

By notification in 2013, the Joint Director and above serving in Directorate of Enforcement, Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, Government of India, who are performing functions under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, are notified as specified officers to disclose such information.

Similarly specified officers notified are SP, Vigilance bureau, Jharkhand, Director, Financial Intelligence Unit India (FIU-IND), Ministry of Finance, Joint Director and above serving in Directorate of Enforcement, Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance.

Mr G, claimed to be an informer to the income tax department, sought information and all the records available with the income tax department in respect of several assessees for various assessment years. He wants entire information about all officers working in all wings of Income Tax Offices in Delhi, Central Delhi, Chandigarh and Mumbai.

He first gave civil list numbers of various officers, their location. He wanted all details of 101 officers besides saying all officers from August 2003 to Sept 2005 or all the officers from April 2005 to till the reply is given. Second page contains his demand of information in soft form about assets statements of persons listed by civil list number and designation, along with assets statements of their spouse and person dependent on them for last ten years, details of immoveable assets acquired by them in the last ten years along with their sources. He also wants inspection of all records besides the designation of officer whom the statement of assets and assets purchased are sent.

This is only from one RTI application. He filed umpteen numbers of applications like this. Assets-related information is claimed to be ‘third party information’ of officers, their wives-related information was held to be their private information. As per Section 6(2), the applicant need not give reasons for demanding information.

But under Section 8, the appellant has to inform the public interest, and under Section 11, the PIO has to examine whether there is any public interest in this demand. Applicant being an ‘informer,’ he is interested in his incentive which is 10 per cent of recovered tax amount from tax evaders if based on information given by the informer.

There are instances ‘informer’ claimed crores of rupees as incentive which resulted in capping of incentive at Rs 2.5 lakh in 2015. This appellant wanted entire files of assets of 101 officers mentioned and hundreds of others.

If given, anyone can open an office-cum-workshop, probe individual officers along with their officers, assess tax evasion and give information about tax evasion to the department so that he will earn his share. He claims that because he is a citizen he has right to information for this purpose; he is serving nation’s interest and hence there is public interest.

Reading this RTI application itself is harassment and understanding its width and breadth requires deep knowledge, a lot of time and to prepare the information sought demands huge infrastructure. It is relevant to mention personal behaviour of appellant.

He was in hurry, intolerant, and unhesitatingly exhibited disrespect to the Bench of CIC consisting of two Information Commissioners. He used intemperate language and attributed bias to the Bench. After presenting his case for about 45 minutes, he blamed the Bench for not hearing him and left, without answering questions asked. It is recorded that, earlier one learned IC declined to hear his cases.

Considering the information sought by the appellant as third party information, the Deputy Commissioner of Income-tax issued separate notices under Section 11(2) of the RTI Act to the assessees. The assessees submitted their objections and opposed disclosure. The appellant has failed to substantiate the public interest if any. The PIO, however, held that the Tax Evasion Petition is under compilation and would be provided in due course.

Most important factor to be noticed is that appellant is an “informer,” which means he earns money at the rate of 10 per cent of the tax amount recovered from the tax payers because of the information given. The question to be considered is if he using RTI route to collect information and verify whether assessee has suppressed income, and provides that information to the IT office. If his tip-off results in recovery, he would get 10 per cent as incentive.

Can the RTI be used to advance income interest of individual becoming ‘informer,’ or does the ‘informer’ have right to such information that could fetch him income? Appellant G contended that since incentive to reveal such income-related information helps the State to enhance income, it is in public interest and thus he can also seek the same.

How can taking information from the I-T department, giving it back to the same office and making money be considered as ‘public interest’? In fact, this speaks of the ‘system’ of the I-T department or their efficiency. If their information could be analysed and used for enhancing recovery by an individual outsider, why not the department itself do that job? On this logic, it cannot be considered to be in public interest.

When an ‘informer’ filed a writ petition claiming dues to be paid by the I-T department, its DG of IT moved the Supreme Court stating that reward to be paid for giving information about black money cannot be claimed as a matter of right.

The income tax department has brought out new guidelines to award secret informers providing actionable clue about "untraceable" assesses who owe huge taxes and money to government. The department issued in 2015 a set of new instructions to all its offices in the country, stating any person who provides credible inputs against a declared defaulter would be rewarded 10 per cent booty of tax realised from such an entity, but up to a maximum limit of Rs 15 lakh.

The informant, whose identity would be kept secret except in cases where law requires, will just have to give inputs "supported by facts and documents." The department has, at the same time, made it clear that no "speculation, vague or inputs of general nature and educated guess" will be entertained in this regard.

They have no right to claim the ‘incentive’ for giving ‘the information.’ Can such an informer have RTI which can be supplied back to IT department? This needs an elaborate consideration. (Based on the order of CIC Division Bench of Mr Basanth Seth and Sridhar Acharyulu in CIC/DS/A/2011/003603).

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