Strange but true. The Bangalore Income Tax department has sought the Permanent Account Number (PAN) of an applicant for replying to a Right to Information (RTI) query seeking details of an online monitoring system initiated early this year to track movement of illegal money.
The applicant is “required to furnish the PAN to enable the public information officer to furnish the information” read the reply dated September 9, 2013, from the Centralised Processing Centre (CPC), Bangalore.
This newspaper filed the application under RTI last month and requested the ministry of finance to furnish copies of the minutes of all the meetings of the committee governing an online monitoring system called Virtual Office, since its formation in January this year. The application was subsequently transferred to the CPC unit of the IT department in Bangalore.
The ministry had set up the online monitoring system to check revenue leakage and track suspicious transactions. The system coordinates between various revenue intelligence agencies and disseminates information on the movement of illegal funds.
As per section 6(2) of the RTI Act, an applicant making a request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him. In the past, the chief information commission (CIC) in its various decisions had said that PAN was a personal detail.
Experts say that the intention of asking PAN details could be to either to harass the applicant by asking for his personal details or to delay the reply to the RTI query. “This is a new trend among many government offices. By asking unnecessary details that are not required to be furnished as per law, the public information officer is delaying the RTI process,” said CJ Karira, a Hyderabad-based RTI expert. In this case, it is a delaying tactic as the central public information officer (CPIO) of the Income Tax department has access to PAN details of every citizen, including the applicant, he said.
When dna contacted the CPIO, the officer denied seeking PAN details and said “We would ask PAN details only when there are complaints regarding income-tax returns or refund.”