New Delhi: The Income Tax Department on Thursday conducted raids against Hindi language media group Dainik Bhaskar in multiple cities over alleged tax evasion, official sources said. The searches are being conducted in Delhi, Bhopal, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and some other locations in the country.
According to news agency ANI quoting sources, 35 locations of Dainik Bhaskar were searched in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The homes and offices of the group's promoters were also raided.
The media group, which has a large readership in North and Central India, has extensively covered the farmers’ protests, the COVID-19 ‘mismanagement’ by the government, especially the floating corpses in Ganga river, and more recently the Pegasus spyware expose across 50 countries in the world, including India.
A PTI report said 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.
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.
Several Opposition leaders wondered if there was a ‘link’ of the raids with the kind of reportage that the media group had been doing.
"Through its reporting Dainik Bhaskar has exposed the Modi regime's monumental mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now paying the price. An Undeclared Emergency as Arun Shourie has said - this is a Modified Emergency," tweeted Congress leader Jairam Ramesh.
Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted with #RaidOnFreePress, saying that this was a “cowardly attack” on the freedom of press.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) also questioned the IT raids on a media group seen as critical to the ruling dispensation.
“Dainik Bhaskar raids: punishment for daring to expose Modi Govt's COVID lies? Stop Hounding Those who criticise you!” the Left party said in a tweet.
As per sources, IT raids were also conducted in Lucknow-based TV channel Bharat Samachar and the Gomtinagar residence of its editor, Brijesh Mishra, and even some reporters.
The channel is owned by Time Today Media Network and was relaunched in 2017 as a Hindi channel with focus on Uttar Pradesh. It had extensively covered the Hathras rape case and the COVID-19 crisis in UP, by aggressively questioning the state government.
Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal chief minister tweetd: "The attack on journalists and 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," she tweeted.
She added: "I strongly condemn this vindictive act that aims to suppress voices that bring out the TRUTH. It's a grave violation that undermines the very principles of democracy. Urging everyone in the Media to stay strong. Together we shall never let the autocratic forces succeed.”
The Samajwadi Party (SP) on its Twitter handle said when a "coward" government is "afraid", it uses central agencies like the ED, IT Department and the CBI against those opposing it.
"With the ink of truth, the government's corruption, mismanagement during the Covid pandemic, false claims and hollow announcements were exposed by Dainik Bhaskar. Countrywide raids on it are condemnable," the party tweeted.
TMC MP, Mahua Moitra, said: IT raids on Dainik Bhaskar offices & promoter homes - post their reporting on devastation of 2nd Covid wave. If you don’t crawl like GodiMedia then pay price!