New Delhi: The Income Tax Department’s survey of the BBC offices continued for the second day on Wednesday, with the tax department probing “deliberate non-compliance with the transfer pricing rules” and its “vast diversion of profits”.
The I-T Department’s action comes weeks after the British broadcaster had on January 17 released a documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots titled “India: The Modi Question”. The tax department’s action sparked a major political debate, with Opposition parties calling it “undemocratic”, while the BJP labelled the broadcaster the “most Bhrasht Bakwaas Corporation (corrupt and rubbish corporation)”.
Here are the top developments:
BBC gets I-T knock again
A team of Income Tax Department officials on Wednesday arrived at multiple offices of the BBC in Delhi and Mumbai to conduct surveys for the second consecutive day. Officials in the government said the focus of the surveys on BBC is to look into “manipulation of prices for unauthorised benefits, including tax advantages”.
Government officials alleged BBC has been non-compliant under transfer pricing rules; persistent and deliberately violative of transfer pricing norms. It deliberately diverted a significant amount of profits, and did not follow the arm’s length arrangement in the case of allocation of profit, they claimed.
Opposition says intimidation; BJP calls BBC corrupt
Soon after the surveys began, the Opposition accused the Centre of attempting to intimidate the BBC. But the BJP defended the action and accused the British broadcaster of engaging in “venomous” reporting on India. The BJP also labelled the BBC as a “Bhrasht (corrupt) Bakwaas (rubbish) Corporation” with a “tainted and black history of working with malice against India”.
A day after the incident, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that an attack on press freedom is akin to suppressing people’s voices. “Media is the fourth pillar of democracy and an attack on its freedom is similar to suppressing the voice of public. Whosoever speaks against the BJP, these people deploy CBI, ED and I-T behind him,” Kejriwal tweeted in Hindi.
Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and veteran Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, too, came down heavily on the I-T survey. “Probably for the first time in the 100-year history of BBC, such a raid has been conducted against them. Their only fault is that they made a documentary of Gujarat riots in which everyone’s side was included,” he tweeted.
US says it supports importance of free press, freedom of expression globally
The United States said Tuesday that it supported the importance of a free press, freedom of expression and freedom of religion as universal rights which are the “bedrock of democracies” around the world, including in India.
US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said, “We are aware of the search of the BBC offices in Delhi by Indian tax authorities. I would need to refer you to Indian authorities for the details of this search. Beyond this discrete action, what I’ll say more broadly is the general point that I’ve consistently made in this context, but in a universal context as well”.
‘Detailed information will be given soon…’ Anurag Thakur
Union Minister Anurag Thakur on Tuesday said the Income Tax department would soon provide detailed information on the surveys being conducted at BBC offices.
“The Income Tax Deparment conducts surveys from time to time where irregularities are found, and when the survey is completed, they give information by a press note or press briefing. And I think when this survey of IT is completed, they will give you all that information in detail,” he told reporters in Maharashtra.
Sending wrong message globally: Mehbooba Mufti
Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti said that the action against BBC India was sending a wrong message internationally, damaging India’s image as a democracy, news agency PTI reported. Mufti said there was “nothing new” in the I-T dept’s survey as the BJP-led government had allegedly adopted similar measures against journalists in Kashmir.
“There is nothing new. Especially in Jammu and Kashmir, we have been seeing for the past three years how journalists are treated. Fahad Shah and Sajad Gul have been jailed. Unfortunately, the national and international community stayed silent when it was happening here and now it is happening there as well,” she said.
‘One day there will be no media in India’: Mamata Banerjee
Terming the Income-Tax department’s surveys at BBC offices as “political vendetta” of the BJP government, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday said that the action against the British broadcaster has affected the freedom of press. “I-T surveys on BBC is very unfortunate… one day, there’ll be no media in India,” CM Banerjee was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
On Tuesday, the I-T department carried out surveys at the premises of BBC in Delhi and Mumbai against what it alleged was “non-compliance” with transfer pricing rules and diversion of profits. The action came weeks after a BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots triggered a political controversy. After the documentary created a row, the central government had ordered YouTube and Twitter to take down links sharing the documentary.