Coimbatore, Feb 25: The Congress chief, Sonia Gandhi recently revealed that she was not ready to disclose her I-T returns citing that the "disclosure of such private information to third parties by the department in the guise of transparency in public life would amount to unwarranted invasion of the individual's privacy." But there is a man who will access the sensitive information no matter what.
The man in question is Chennai-based activist V Gopalakrishnan, who will use the power of the Right to Information Act to gather the critical information. He intends to use the act as a weapon against corruption. He is arguing that Income Tax returns are not private information under any Indian law.
The Income Tax department's chief public information officer had earlier turned down Gopalakrishnan's application for accessing Sonia's I-T returns from 2000-01 to 2010-11. Not ready to take no for an answer, Gopalakrishnan said, "I will soon appeal before the appellate authority, who is the additional commissioner of income tax in Delhi for the same, and I have the backing of all the relevant laws of RTI in my favour. The government is always talking about transparency, but they are not exhibiting it in their own case. So I am seeking to get the I-T return details of not only the UPA chairperson, but also the president and prime minister."
If anyone thought that the activist has an agenda targeting Sonia and others in the government, Gopalakrishnan also plans to train his guns on BJP leader L K Advani.
Denying the requested information to Gopalakrishnan, Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax, A K Dang who is also serving as the Chief Public Information Officer (CPIO) said, "the information submitted to the income tax department by an assessee under I-T is primarily confidential and private in nature".
Gopalakrishnan, however strongly refutes these claims and says, "The I-T Act itself says no such confidentiality can be claimed. Moreover, the central issue is the definition of what is personal information. From whatever I have learned from the ministry of law and justice, the department of personnel and training and the Chennai High Court, there is no definition for 'personal information' in India."
Gopalakrishnan also backed his arguments saying that he has used the power of RTI to get details of the I-T returns of many important persons including an IPS officer, a Tamil Nadu MLA, and even a former TN minister's daughter-in-law. He therefore finds no substance in the argument that the I-T return information was sacred. He added that the RTI Act overrides many of the provisions of the I-T Act, 1961.
He pointed out, "Politicians provide all sorts of personal income details during poll nomination time, including bank balance, land-holding details and even details of jewellery owned. Compared to that, I-T return is merely an income and expense statement, and where is the personal information in it? After all, I-T return is a mandatory document and not one that individuals file at their wish."
Gopalakrishnan considers that transparency in the I-T return information will help in substantially curbing corruption in the country. He proudly claimed that his pursuits yielded fruit when, during the course of his fight, he found that at least 8 MLAs in Tamil Nadu did not even have PAN registration.