The chief information commissioner (CIC), India’s top body for administering the Right to Information (RTI) Act heard arguments from the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) for making income tax returns of members of parliament public.
The arguments were in an appeal filed by the NGO after its requests for getting the income tax returns of several MPs were turned down by income tax authorities, on the ground that no public purpose would be served by making these public.
The CIC is the final authority in matters of implementation of the RTI and deals with disputes arising on law points.
The Association argued that public interest would be served by the disclosure of the income of members of Parliament and quoted Supreme Court judgments to bolster its case.
It said that Supreme Court’s judgment in writ petition no. 490/509/515 of 2002 observed what was held in an earlier case — P.V. Narasimha Rao Vs. State (1998) — “They are the repositories of public trust. They have public duties to perform. It is borne out by experience that by virtue of the office they hold there is a real potential for misuse. The public awareness of financial position of the candidate will go a long way in forming an opinion whether the candidate, after election to the office had amassed wealth either in his own name or in the name of family members viz., spouse and dependent children. At the time when the candidate seeks re-election, the citizens/voters can have a comparative idea of the assets before and after the election so as to assess whether the high public office had possibly been used for selfaggrandizement. Incidentally, the disclosure will serve as a check against misuse of power for making quick money–a malady which nobody can deny, has been pervading the political spectrum of our democratic nation….”
It also pointed out that it is mandatory for candidates to disclose various information about their last Annual Income Tax details, along with those of their dependents and spouse, to the Election Commission.
Several MPs have already opposed the demand in their responses to the CIC, stating that the information sought was personal, disclosure of which had no relationship to any public activity or interest and would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy.
The Association for Democratic Reforms was represented through its national co-ordinator, Anil Bairwal, and Ashok Aneja, Retd Chief Commissioner (Income Tax).