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Why Income Tax raid BBC office in Mumbai, Delhi?

The Indian tax services raided the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday, February 14, 2023, after the country banned

By Ground report
New Update
Why Income Tax raid BBC office in Mumbai, Delhi?

The Income Tax officials raided the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday, February 14, 2023, after the country banned a documentary from the British broadcaster criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's alleged role in deadly riots more than 20 years ago.

Police cordoned off the building and half a dozen officers were stationed outside the New Delhi office, which occupies two floors, to prevent people from entering or leaving, a BBC employee based in that capital office said: " There is a tax intervention in the offices, they are confiscating all the phones," the official said, refusing to reveal his department.

The record comes just weeks after the broadcast of a documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's actions during deadly sectarian riots in 2002.

"The Income Tax Authorities are currently at the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai and we are fully cooperating," the British chain confirmed, however, on Twitter: "We hope this situation is resolved as soon as possible."

Documents were seized and the journalists' phones and laptops were taken. The employees were allowed to leave six hours after the searches began, only after their laptops were scanned. The images showed some employees arguing with officials.

Officials used the keyword "taxes" to search for information on desks after asking employees to log in, a BBC journalist told NDTV.

The riots and the BCC documentary

Last month, the station aired a two-part documentary alleging that Modi ordered police ignore to sectarian riots in the state of Gujarat, where he was prime minister at the time. That wave of violence caused at least 1,000 deaths, most of them members of the country's Muslim minority. 

Shortly after its publication, the Indian government blocked videos and tweets linking to the documentary, using emergency powers under its information technology laws, calling it "hostile propaganda and anti-Indian garbage." 

Subsequently, groups of university students organized screenings of the documentary, despite campus bans, defying government efforts to stop its broadcast. Police have arrested two dozen students at the prestigious Delhi University after stopping a screening there.

BBC official Statement on I-T Dept action

The BBC in a statement said the documentary was "rigorously researched" and involved a wide range of voices and opinions.

"We offered the Indian government the right to respond to the issues raised in the series; it declined to respond," the statement said.

It is pertinent to note that the above exercise conducted by the tax authorities, is called “survey” not search/raid as per the provisions of the Income Tax Act. Such surveys are routinely conducted and are not to be confused to be in the nature of a search/raid.

In the case of the BBC, there has been persistent non-compliance with the abovementioned rules for years. As a result of the same, several notices have been issued to the BBC. However, the BBC has been continuously defiant and non-compliant and has significantly diverted its profits.

The key focus of these surveys is to look into the manipulation of prices for unauthorised benefits, including tax advantages. These surveys have been undertaken due to BBC’s persistent non-compliance with the norms, making it a repeat offender.

Editor’s Guild of India deeply concerned

In a statement Tuesday, the Editor’s Guild of India said it was “deeply concerned” by the development.

The raids were a “continuation of a trend of using government agencies to intimidate and harass press organisations that are critical of government policies or the ruling establishment,” it said. “This is a trend that undermines constitutional democracy.”

The statement gave examples of similar searches carried out at the offices of various English-language local media outlets, including NewsClick and Newslaundry, as well as Hindi-language media organizations including Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar.

“The Guild demands that great care and sensitivity be shown in all such investigations so as to not undermine the rights of journalists and media organisations,” it said.

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