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Above: Illustration by Anthony Lawrence

In an interesting development, the Madhya Pradesh High Court has ruled that a wife has the right to know her husband’s salary, thereby upholding a CIC ruling in January 2014

~By Rakesh Dixit in Bhopal

In a landmark judgment, the Madhya Pradesh High Court has ruled that a woman has the right to know the remuneration of her husband and that she can’t be denied this information by considering her a third party under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.

With this ruling on May 15, a High Court bench of Justices SK Seth and Nandita Dubey allowed Bhopal-based petitioner Sunita Jain, a non-practising lawyer, to seek higher maintenance from her estranged husband, a senior officer with the state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited.

The petitioner had pleaded that her estranged husband, Pawan Kumar Jain, was drawing a salary of Rs 2.25 lakh per month, but was giving her only Rs 7,000 as monthly maintenance. In her maintenance case, she had filed an application under Section 91 of the CrPC for a direction to her estranged husband to submit his pay slip for determination of proper maintenance amount, which was earlier rejected by a trial court. The High Court has now asked BSNL to provide Pawan’s pay slip to the petitioner.

The judgment has far-reaching implications because it upholds the Central Information Commission’s (CIC) ruling in January 2014 that wives of all government servants have the right to know the salary of their husbands.

M Sridhar Acharyulu, Information Commissioner, had said that “each spouse in a marriage has the right to learn about the other’s salary particulars for maintenance purposes”. He had asked all government offices to make available the details of their employees’ salary in the public domain as mandated under the RTI Act’s suo motu disclosure provision.

Sunita Jain’s counsel KC Ghildiyal said that after a district court had rejected his client’s plea that her husband produce pay slip, she had filed an RTI application in the BSNL office to get his salary details but she was denied the information. She took the matter to the Central Information Commission (CIC), which, on July 27, 2007, asked the BSNL Central Public Information Officer to furnish the required details.

Pawan, however, challenged the CIC order before a single bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which set it aside in March 2015. The bench ruled in favour of the husband on the ground that salary of a person can’t be disclosed to anyone under the Right to Privacy. Sunita then moved the double bench of the High Court, which ruled in her favour.

The double bench said that the Supreme Court order in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande vs CIC, on the basis of which the single bench had quashed the CIC order, was different in nature. It ruled that in this case, it was the wife who wished to know the exact salary of her husband and she has a right to it.

The bench in its judgement deliberated on the difference between Section 8(1)(J) and Section 4(1)(b)(x) of the RTI Act. Section 8(1)(J) stipulates: “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.”

Section 4(1)(b)(x), on the other hand, obliges public authorities to display in public domain the monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees.

The justices observed: “While dealing with the Section 8(1)(J) of the Act, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the appellant (Sunita Jain) and the respondent No 1 Pawan Kumar Jain are wife and husband and as a wife she is entitled to know what remuneration the respondent No 1 is getting. The present case is distinguishable from the case of Girish Ramchandra Deshpande (supra) and therefore the law laid down by their Lordships in the case of Girish Ramchandra Deshpande (supra) are not applicable in the present case”.

Information Commissioner, MS Acharyulu
Information Commissioner, MS Acharyulu

In a similar case, the CIC had ruled in January 2014 that wives of government servants have a right to know salary particulars of their husbands. The ruling came in response to a petition by Jyoti Seharawat who had sought to know the salary of her husband, an employee in the home department of the Delhi government.

The home department refused to share the information, citing a letter from her husband where he had written that his salary slip could not be disclosed to “a third party”. The petitioner then moved the CIC for redressal. Taking note of her petition, Acharyulu warned the home department that “such denial of information will be wrongful and could incur penalty”.

The information commissioner clarified that details about a government employee’s salary is no third party information and these have to be voluntarily disclosed under Section 4(1)(b)(x) of the RTI Act.

He said that the salary paid to the public authority was sourced from the tax paid by the people in general and it had to be disclosed mandatorily under the RTI Act.

The CIC has already made it clear that “as per the provisions of various personal laws applicable to people of different religions, the husband as an earning member of the family has a legal duty to maintain the wife and children. It is an undisputed fact that the dependents such as wife and children can seek a direction from courts of justice”.

It further said: “Even after the divorce, the family law ordains that husband has a duty to provide for necessary maintenance of the wife and children. Section 125 of the CrPC mandated that husband has a general duty to maintain wife and children. The wife’s entitlement to know the salary particulars of her husband gets further fortified by all these legal provisions.”

The CIC has also issued a general warning that denial of information about salary might amount to denial of justice with malafide intentions either to harass the spouse, delay the process of justice, avoid payment of money necessary for maintenance through giving wrong information or denying correct information to the court of law. The public authority or its public information officers or Appellate Authority cannot inadvertently be a party to this malafide denial of justice to the spouse.

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