An RTI application to find whether a woman who drives a Toyota Corolla is an income tax payer revealed how government departments fail to follow its own regulations.
In March 2008, Kanpur resident Yashpal Singh (45), a cosmetics retailer, asked the question under the RTI Act, 2005 regarding his land lady, Sushila Devi, who earns Rs 7.20 lakh annually from about 70 tenants. But she doesn’t pay a rupee to the Income Tax department.
“Sushila Devi is not assessed to tax,” responded the I-T department to Singh’s RTI request following an order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) passed in February 2009.
In the same order, the CIC upheld the I-T department’s stand that it couldn’t share with the appellant Devi’s “personal” information, such as whether or not she had a PAN card.
Singh’s small victory is part of a bigger struggle of survival, in which he used RTI to get several public authorities to reveal some startling information — the reason he’s one of the nominees for the National RTI Awards in the citizens’ category.
In September 2005, Triveni Market, a commercial complex owned by Sushila Devi, became a subject of an auction notice from the United Bank of India (UBI), jeopardising the business of 70 tenant-retailers.
The reason: Sushila Devi had defaulted on a loan from UBI.
Threatened with commercial displacement, Singh, also president of Triveni Market Shopkeepers’ Association, was then compelled to seek an insight into the murky financial affairs of his land-lady.
RTI replies revealed that she owed Rs 2.48 crore to the Uttar Pradesh Finance Commission (UPFC). It also revealed that UBI had given loan on Triveni Market mortgaged with the corporation.
“How could UBI lend money to a borrower, who had defaulted on a loan from UPFC, against a property that was threatened to be foreclosed by UPFC,” wondered Singh.
Notably, in applying for the loan from UBI, Sushila Devi made the declaration that she did not owe anything to any financial institution.
Currently, claims of both UPFC and UBI are pending in Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT).
Sushila Devi has also been a defaulter on a loan from the State Bank of India (SBI), found another of Singh’s RTI request.
Both UBI and SBI have continued to stonewall Singh’s request for information on amounts of loans taken by Sushila Devi and the money, if any, that she’s repaid. The two cases are pending at CIC.
Singh’s case shows how government authorities have been encouraging corruption. Is there a hope for the citizens?
Maybe yes, thanks to the RTI Act, 2005.