Saturday, April 01, 2017

CIC says spouse’s personal information can be shared on humanitarian ground

Economic Times: New Delhi: Saturday, April 01, 2017.
I think my pilot husband is having an affair with an air hostess and spending most of his salary on her - if that sounds like an isolated case of fanciful misgivings of a suspicious spouse, think again.
Government departments are besieged with such requests under the Right to Information Act, from wives of a number of employees of state-run carrier Air India, for instance, seeking details of salary drawn by their husbands.
Estranged spouses are increasingly using the transparency law to either arm themselves with more information about their partner's infidelity to file divorce cases or get maintenance for children, officials said. In many cases, the spouse approaches the government department where the husband or wife is employed, owing to suspicion that there are certain hidden financial assets not disclosed to them. However, the RTI Act expressly forbids disclosure of "personal information" such as salary details.
As a result, most such cases of marital discord are reaching the transparency watchdog, Central Information Commission (CIC).
A resident of Akola, for instance, turned to the CIC after the Income Tax Department refused information on the income tax returns filed by her husband, who had deserted her. She wanted to find out his whereabouts through his income tax returns.
The CIC took a view that on humanitarian grounds, generic information from income tax returns should be given. Similarly, the commission helped a resident of Rohini in Delhi who approached it after the Income Tax Department refused to divulge his father-in-law and wife's income tax returns.
When the resident said that he needed the details to contest a dowry case filed against him, information commissioner Bimal Julka took a view that in the interest of natural justice net taxable income of both should be disclosed to him.
"Some very heart-rending cases have been coming to the commission," Julka told ET. "There has been a sharp increase in these cases before us. In some the wife has no source of income and has to support schoolgoing children and she seeks information about the husband's salary so that she can claim maintenance." Other information commissioners recounted similar cases where helpless appellants sometimes broke down in the court during hearings.
"The commission cannot take sides in a marital dispute. It cannot even be a forum to decide who is right or wrong. We are custodians of the transparency legislation," said another information commissioner, who did not wish to be identified.
"So now we see if there is merit then we ask the department to divulge gross income so that fair maintenance can be sought from the court." The commission has decided to take a liberal view, even as Section 8 (1) (j) of the RTI Act does not allow divulging personal information.
It says: "Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the central public information officer (CPIO) or the appellate authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information."