RTI petitioner finds cops at doorstep
He used the Right to Information (RTI) Act to get details about refund cases from West Bengal’s commercial taxes directorate. But he got the police at his doorstep instead, becoming possibly the first user of the RTI to face police grilling.
On June 8 this year, Samir Dey of Nona Chandanpukur applied to the State Public Information Officer (SPIO) of the Directorate of Commercial Taxes for details of all individual cases from 1997 to 2007, where the assessment officer had allowed a refund but the refund adjustment orders were not issued with the notice of demand. Dey also wanted to know why the refund orders were not issued with the notices as called for by the law.
Commissioner H K Dwivedi decided to call for proof of his citizenship and wrote to Dey asking for copies of his passport or voter ID card, attested by a first class magistrate.
On June 26, Dey sent the required proof, under protest, noting that the RTI Act does not require such proof and that in any case even a foreigner paying taxes in India can possess a PAN card.
The next day, Dey was “surprised” to find Assistant Sub-Inspector Rajib Paul of Titagarh police station knocking at his door. The ASI asked him to furnish proof of his citizenship and even asked questions about his RTI application.
Dey, in his complaint to the State Chief Information Commission (SCIC), dated July 23, claimed that the police officer also wanted to verify his name, his father’s name and a host of other details. Dey cooperated with the police officer. But he also sent a new application under Section 6 of the RTI Act seeking to know if the Commercial Taxes directorate had really sent the police and, if so, under which provision.
In the complaint to the SCIC, Dey said that the directorate had tried to intimidate him by sending the police for verification. According to Dey, the SPIO had given an “incomplete and misleading reply” to his petition for information. He said that the Commercial Taxes department had cited a section of the VAT Act that is not relevant to his case, and tried to misguide him. Dey cited a section of the WBST Act of 1994 that entitled him to the information about refunds that he had sought .
“The concerned authority is a responsible officer of the Sales Tax Directorate and it is not believable that he does not know the provision of law referred to by him,” Dey has noted in his complaint to the SCIC. He has petitioned the SCIC to find out if the commercial taxes directorate has “deliberately acted” to frustrate the mandatory provisions of the Act to take action against them. He has also petitioned the SCIC to order the directorate to supply “correct, complete and detailed” information.
When the police chief of North 24 Parganas was asked by the SCIC on July 31 to explain why police had been sent to Dey’s residence, Superintendent of Police Supratim Sarkar said the police check had been done at the request of H K Dwivedi, the Commissioner of Commercial Taxes. On the same date, the SCIC wrote to the Commercial Taxes directorate also, asking the same question. The directorate said that there is “apparently no section dealing with the procedures of verification of citizenship” in the RTI Act.
It was felt that an enquiry through the police was the “primary source of getting information as to the bona fide existence” of the applicant.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Arun Bhattacharjee of the SCIC said that his office was dealing with the matter and the hearings are over. “I have certain questions. When I get the answers, I shall write my judgment,” Bhattacharjee said. Sources said that the commercial taxes department has handled at least 15 RTI petitions without questioning the identity of the petitioners. So, it was puzzling as to why Dey was singled out.
Kolkata, December 28, 2007
More questions than he asked:
Re: RTI petitioner finds cops at doorstep
Others in the same boat of VAT refunds as me, except of course for the Police visit.
The applicant should also file a RTI Application with the Police Department to check under what prevailing law have they obliged the CTD to verify his citizenship and other details and why have they asked for other personal details besides his citzenship details.
Hopefully, Mr Samir Dey will become another RTI activist like me and help others too.
Last edited by karira; 28-12-07 at 10:12 AM.