Kerala High Court held that demand of information about Bank accounts & Income Tax Returns, without Statutory Backing, Violates Right To Privacy

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Kerala High Court

The division bench of High Court comprising of Justices C K Abdul Rehim and Narayana Pisharady gave significant judgment and held that information about one’s bank accounts and income tax returns constitute personal and private information. Therefore, demanding disclosure of such information without statutory backing will result in the violation of right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950.  

The division bench said :

“There can be no doubt with regard to the fact that details of the bank account of a person constitute personal and private information. The statement of account of a person in a bank would reveal the amount in deposit in the bank and the amounts deposited and withdrawn in the past. It would give a clear picture of a person’s financial capacity. It would disclose the cash transactions which a person had with third parties. It would reveal the amount transferred to and received by a person from another. It may show the loans availed of by a person from the bank. Habits of a person, his life style, his association with other persons and many other personal matters can be deduced from a close scrutiny of his bank account for some period. Therefore, we have no hesitation to hold that details of the bank account of a person constitute personal information and that any demand made to disclose such information amounts to infringement of his right to privacy.”

There is an element of confidentiality between a bank and its customers in relation to the latter’s banking transactions, said the Court, referring to SC decision in District Registrar and Collector v. Canara Bank : AIR 2005 SC 186.

The bench added :

“The right to privacy is not lost as a result of confidential information being parted with by the customer to the custody of the bank. Parting with information to the bank does not destroy its privacy. Moreover, the bank is under obligation to maintain the secrecy of such information unless disclosure of it is required by law. The relationship between a bank and the customer is fiduciary in nature.”

Likewise, the judgment authored by Justice Abdul Rehim added that information of income tax returns will also come under the ambit of right to privacy.

“Any information which discloses remittances made to the Income Tax Department towards discharge of tax liability would constitute personal information. A demand for furnishing income tax returns filed by a person would constitute an invasion of the privacy of a person.”

The Court also rejected the contention of companies that information of tax returns was not personal or private.

“Income tax returns or the bank account statements of a person would contain much other information. It will not be possible to segregate the details regarding the dealership of the appellants from such records and to furnish them to the second respondent.”