The Income Tax Department on Thursday (July 22) conducted raids against the media group Dainik Bhaskar in multiple cities over alleged tax evasion, official sources said, drawing a strong reaction from the group and political leaders.
Sources said the searches were being conducted in Bhopal, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and some other locations in the country. While there was no official word from the department or its policy-making body, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), official sources said the action also involves the promoters of the major Hindi media group with operations across multiple states.
Reacting to the raids, the newspaper said it has presented a true picture of the government’s flaws and that the latter was afraid of their journalism. In a tweet in Hindi, the paper said: “I am free because I am Bhaskar. Bhaskar will run only at the advice of its readers.”
Bhaskar also said that the I-T teams also conducted searches at the homes of many people working in the organisation, adding that mobile phones of employees present in the offices were confiscated and they were not allowed to go out.
It said employees on the night shift were barred from leaving the office, and were told that they are part of the process. However, Bhaskar’s digital night team was allowed to leave at 12:30 pm.
The paper said that during the second COVID wave, the newspaper presented the real situation in India through its reportage, whether it was bodies in the Ganga or unreported deaths due to the pandemic.
“Bhaskar showed fearless journalism and kept the truth in front of the public,” the newspaper said, adding screenshots of their various reports on the topics.
Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh said on Twitter that tax officials “are present” at half-a-dozen premises of the group, including at its office at Press Complex in state capital Bhopal.
A senior editor of Dainik Bhaskar told NDTV that raids were on at the group’s Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Bhopal and Indore offices.
One of the largest newspaper groups in the country, the Dainik Bhaskar was at the forefront of reporting on the scale of devastation in the second wave of COVID in April-May.
The paper came out with reports that took a critical look at official claims during the pandemic as raging infections left people desperate for oxygen, hospital beds and vaccine.
The reports revealed how bodies of COVID victims were floating in the Ganga and washing up on the banks in towns of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. These bodies were apparently bundled off into the river because of the lack of means to cremate them. The reports also revealed that bodies were buried in shallow graves by the river in UP.
The New York Times had, a month ago, published Dainik Bhaskar editor Om Gaur’s op-ed on COVID deaths in India, titled: ‘The Ganges Is Returning the Dead. It Does Not Lie.’ The opinion piece was critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus peak. The holiest of India’s rivers “became Exhibit A for the Modi administration’s failures and deceptions”, he wrote.
Meanwhile, Delhi’s ruling AAP has condemned the raids. “Income tax raids conducted on Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar are an attempt to scare the media. Their message is clear — those who speak against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will not be spared. This kind of thinking is very dangerous. Everyone should raise their voice against it,” Kejriwal said in his tweet posted in Hindi.
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee said: “The attack on journalists & media houses is yet another brutal attempt to stifle democracy. #DainikBhaskar bravely reported the way @narendramodi ji mishandled the entire #COVID crisis and led the country to its most horrifying days amid a raging pandemic.”