Soon after the Income Tax Department began its survey at BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday, Opposition leaders took potshots at the Centre and called the action ‘predictable’, ‘a sign of panic’, and a hint that ‘their end is near’.
The Income Tax survey has come weeks after a controversy over the BBC’s documentary series on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and allegations linked to the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Addressing a press conference, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said, “The BBC has become the most ‘Bhrasht Bakwaas Corporation’ in the world. Unfortunately, BBC’s propaganda and Congress’ agenda are on the same lines.”
“If any company or organisation is working in India, they have to comply with the Indian law. Why are you scared if you are adhering to the law? The IT department should be allowed to do their work,” he said.
Trinamul Congress MP Mahua Moitra, while taking a “how unexpected” jibe, linked it to allegations of the US-based short-seller Hindenburg group’s allegations of Adani group manipulating stocks. Snacks for Adani when he visits the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) office, she said. Moitra has long been calling for the stock market regulator’s investigation into Adani group companies.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said while his party is demanding a JPC (Joint Parliamentary Probe) probe into the Adani issue, the government is going after the BBC. “Vinash kale viprit buddhi (when one’s destruction is soon to come, they think unintelligently),” he said.
Congress Rajya Sabha MP K C Venugopal, while condemning the action, said the “raid reeks of desperation.” Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said “their (BJP’s) end is near.”
“When the government and administration become symbols of fear and oppression instead of fearlessness, then it should be understood that their end is near,” he tweeted in Hindi.
Mehbooba Mufti of the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the government is “brazenly hounding” those who “speak the truth”.
CPI (M) MP John Brittas called it predictable, and wondered how UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would respond. “Wasn’t it predictable?! What will be the response of Rishi Sunak?” he tweeted. His party General Secretay Sitaram Yechury tweeted, “First ban BBC documentaries. No JPC/enquiry into Adani exposures. Now IT raids on BBC offices! India: ‘Mother of democracy’?”
The searches are in view of “the BBC’s deliberate non-compliance with the Transfer Pricing Rules and its vast diversion of profits of international taxation,” sources said.
“In the case of the BBC, there has been persistent non-compliance with the above-mentioned 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 their profits,” the sources said.
“The key focus of these surveys is to look into manipulation of prices for unauthorised benefits, including tax advantages. These surveys have been undertaken due to BBC’s persistent non-compliance of the norms, making it a repeat offender,” the official sources said.
Around 20 tax officials searched the BBC’s Delhi office. In Mumbai, BBC Studios that deals with production was searched. Documents were seized and phones and laptops of journalists were taken away, the sources said. The offices will be sealed for the duration of the survey, and employees have been asked not to share details with anyone.
Tax officials said this was a survey, not a search, and that the phones would be returned. “We needed some clarifications and for that our team is visiting the BBC office, and we are carrying out a survey. Our officers have gone to check account books, these are not searches,” the Income Tax sources asserted.