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Return scrutiny documents done by the IT department must be made public

CLR Editorial Note: The Petitioner in this case, was an advocate, who had filed an application with the CBDT under Section 6 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 thus seeking information pertaining to cases which were as such excluded from scrutiny, and where the disclosure was made during survey.

He also sought information qua the scrutiny guidelines for the financial year 2009-10. The IT Department opposed this disclosure of the scrutiny guidelines on the grounds that it would prejudice the economic interest of the Country and enable assessees to configure their return to avoid scrutiny. The CIC upheld this refusal to supply information. However, the advocate / petitioner filed a Writ Petition challenging this CIC’s order.

The Hon’ble High Court reversed the CIC order and Held:

The Income-tax department has issued instructions with regard to procedure for selection of cases for scrutiny from time to time both qua corporate assessees as well as non-corporate assessees. These instructions give detailed procedure on the basis on which the concerned officers are required to make a random selection of assessees whose cases are taken up for scrutiny. These instructions are in public domain even prior to the enactment of the RTI Act. Most of these instructions have been issued in the middle of the financial year and not in the beginning and they are applied to pending returns as well. Therefore, the argument, that assessees would configure their returns in the manner, which would impact the economic interest of the country, cannot be accepted. The expression economic interest takes within its sweep matters which operate at a macro level and not at an individual, i.e., micro level. By no stretch of imagination can scrutiny guidelines impact the economic interest of the country. These guidelines are issued to prevent harassment to assessees generally. It is not as if, de hors the scrutiny guidelines, the I.T. Department cannot take up a case for scrutiny, if otherwise, invested with jurisdiction, in that behalf. This is an information which has always been in public realm, and therefore, there is no reason why the department should keep it away from the public at large. The department shall supply the relevant scrutiny guidelines to the petitioner for the financial year 2009-10 and hereafter upload the guidelines with regard to scrutiny on their website.

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The Full Case Document is available for download

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Tags: Commonwealth Law ReportsDelhi High CourtFiling (legal)Fiscal yearHonIncome taxRight to Information ActThe Honourable

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