“Agencies Do Their Job, No Interference”: Government On Media Tax Raids

India: Media group Dainik Bhaskar and an Uttar Pradesh-based news channel were raided by Income Tax teams across India this morning over allegations of tax evasion. As the raids on media outlets seen to be critical of the government spurred opposition attacks and condemnation on social media, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur detached the Centre from the multi-city crackdown.

“Agencies do their own work, we don’t interfere in their functioning. I would also like to say that facts need to be found before reporting about any incident. Sometimes lack of information is misleading,” Anurag Thakur told reporters at a cabinet briefing.

The comment, hours after the raids, was the only official response from the government.  There is no official word from the Income Tax Department or its policy-making body, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT).

Some 100 taxmen searched around 30 locations of Dainik Bhaskar in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. The homes and offices of the group’s promoters were also raided.

Bharat Samachar, an Uttar Pradesh news channel, was also raided. An Income Tax team searched the Lucknow office and also the editor’s home to examine tax documents.

The raids were based on “conclusive evidence of tax fraud” by the channel, said officials.

Both Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar have been critical of the government’s handling of the Covid crisis and have put out reports on highlighting the scale of devastation and distress when Covid cases peaked in April-May, in the second surge.

Dainik Bhaskar, in a message on its website, said it was raided for putting out the “true picture of the government’s inefficiency before the country during the second wave of COVID-19.”

“I am independent because I am Bhaskar. Bhaskar is only about what readers want,” the site declared in Hindi.

According to the group, the raids were carried out at the homes of its employees; in offices, mobile phones were taken away and people were not allowed to go out. The digital team working on the night shift was released at 12:30 pm, said Dainik Bhaskar.