Delhi High Court sets aside order asking CBDT to give info on Ram Mandir Trust [1.3.2024]

The Delhi High Court has set aside an order of the Central Information Commission directing the Central Board of Direct Taxes to provide information relating to Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, looking after the construction and management of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, under the RTI Act.

The high court on February 28 allowed the petition by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) challenging the Central Information Commission's (CIC's) November 30, 2022, order.

Justice Subramonium Prasad said it is always open for applicant Kailash Chandra Moondra to approach the appropriate authority under the Income Tax Act to seek information as sought in the Right to Information (RTI) application.

The high court was dealing with a plea by the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of CBDT seeking quashing of the November 30, 2022, order of the CIC which had directed that the CPIO would revisit certain points made in the application under the RTI Act and provide information within 15 days from the receipt of the order.

The RTI applicant had sought a copy of the complete application with all annexures filed by the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust to get exemptions or deductions under the relevant provisions for its donations. He had also sought a copy of the trust deed which was filed with the application for getting exemptions or deductions for its donations.

Initially, the information was sought from the CPIO of CBDT which was denied. Thereafter, the first appeal was filed before the appellate authority of CBDT which also refused to give the information.

The RTI applicant then approached the CIC with a second appeal which reversed the findings of the CPIO of CBDT and the appellate authority and passed the November 30, 2022 order.

The counsel for CBDT submitted before the high court that the information about an assessee cannot be given under the RTI Act in view of Section 138(1)(b) of the Income Tax Act.

He also relied on a judgment passed by the high court on January 22 in which it had set aside a CIC order directing the Income Tax Department to provide details regarding the tax exemption granted to the PM Cares Fund under the RTI Act.

It was observed that the CIC does not have the jurisdiction to direct furnishing of information provided under Section 138 (disclosure of information regarding assesses) of the IT Act.

In the present case, the high court said, "In view of the above, the writ petition is allowed. The impugned order dated November 30, 2022, passed by the CIC is set aside.

02 Mar 2024