The Central Information Commission (CIC) on Thursday, asked the Income Tax Department to provide ‘generic details’ of the net taxable income/gross income of the husband to the wife within 15 days. This ruling was made after the Department refused to give information to the wife on her application under Right to Information (RTI).

Ruling of the CIC is final and binding upon the appellant and respondents. Experts say, currently, there is no provision under the Income Tax Act, which allows sharing of information about husband’s income with the wife. Section 137 of the Income Tax Act clearly says all particulars contained in Income Tax Returns shall be treated as confidential.

The appellant Sanju Gupta filed an RTI on April 16, 2021, to know the gross and taxable income of her husband Anand Gupta for Financial Years 2018-19 and 2019-20 and also sought copy of Income Tax Return filed by him. However, on June 1, 2021, Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) replied that as the information has been sought by the third party, consent had been sought from Anand Gupta, who declined to do so. Accordingly, no information was provided to Sanju Gupta.

‘Disclosure not allowed’

The matter reached first level of appeal on June 14, 2021, which upheld the reply of CPIO. Then the matter reached CIC. The bench took note of number of rulings and also acknowledged judgement by Delhi High Court (Vijay Prakash vs. Union of India, 2009) where it was observed that in private disputes such as the present one between a husband and wife “…The basic protection afforded by virtue of the exemption (from disclosure) enacted under Section 8(1)(j) of RTI Act cannot be lifted or disturbed.” This particular section prescribes exemption to personal information from disclosure.

Condition for exemption says such information has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual. However, the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority may allow disclosures provided by it is in larger public interest.

Taking note of rulings by higher courts, the CIC directed the I-T Department to inform the appellant about the generic details of the net taxable income/gross income of her husband. However, the details of income tax returns and other personal information of third party need not be disclosed, it said.

Commenting on the ruling, Sandeep Sehgal, Tax Partner at AKM Global, said that under the taxation laws including the Income Tax Act, there is usually no mechanism available for a spouse to seek information about the income of his/her spouse. Hence, “the spouse may need to resort to the RTI Act for such details. However, even in the present order, instead of full disclosures asked for, only some basic details of income has been ordered to be provided with,” he said.