Private firms exempted from disclosure of Tax information under RTI

At present individuals are exempted from disclosure of tax information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. In a recent judgment the High Court of Delhi, ordered that, even Private Limited Companies are exempted from disclosure of tax information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.

While hearing the case, Court observed that, “The expression individual must be construed in an expansive sense and would include a body of individuals. The said exemption would be available even to unincorporated entities as also private, closely-held undertakings which are, in substance, alter egos of their shareholders.”

A private limited company is a company with a minimum paid-up share capital of Rs.1 lakh. Such a company shall have minimum 2 and maximum 50 shareholders, and it has limited liability. It cannot sell shares to the public nor transfer them freely between shareholders.

Court ruled that, confidential information of individuals cannot be disclosed unless it is in public interest. Court was hearing an appeal filed by Escorts Ltd, Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre and their promoters Naresh Trehan and Rajan Nanda, against a 2009 Central Information Commission (CIC) ruling that allowed disclosure of their income-tax assessment records under RTI.

Central Information Commission (CIC) had ruled that the Escorts Group had failed to explain “how disclosure of information relating to commercial confidence would harm their competitive interest”. Central Information Commission’s (CIC) order was in response to a request made by Rakesh Gupta, an informer of the income-tax department. Gupta had alleged tax evasion of over Rs.350 crore by the Escorts Group and sought tax records of the group and its promoters in public interest.

However, Delhi high court, said Central Information Commission (CIC) was wrong to ask tax authorities to disclose information to informers to enable them to bring instances of tax evasion to the notice of authorities. In Court’s view, this reasoning is flawed as it would tend to subvert the assessment process rather than aid it. If this idea is carried to its logical end, it would enable several busy bodies to interfere in assessment proceedings and throw up their interpretation of law and facts as to how an assessment ought to be carried out.