BBC India offices raided by income tax officials; 'fully co-operating' with authorities, says broadcaster
The searches in New Delhi and Mumbai come weeks after the broadcaster aired a documentary in the UK critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Published: 14th February 2023 01:03 PM | Last Updated: 14th February 2023 11:21 PM | A+A A-
NEW DELHI: The officials of the Income Tax Department raided the offices of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in New Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday, weeks after the broadcaster aired a documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the deadly sectarian riots in 2002.
The synchronised surprise action began at 11 am with I-T officials reaching the BBC offices in Delhi and in Mumbai. Police sealed off the New Delhi office, which occupies two floors, and half a dozen officers were stationed outside to prevent people from entering or leaving. As news spread, onlookers and media crews were seen outside the BBC office at central Delhi's Kasturba Gandhi Marg. In Mumbai, the office is in Santa Cruz.
The department is looking at documents related to the business operations of the London headquartered public broadcaster and its Indian arm, they said. The investigation is linked to international taxation issues of BBC subsidiary companies, sources said.
According to reports, the employees of the broadcasting corporation were asked not to use their computer systems and phones, including their personal ones. Reports quoting sources said the employees working in the afternoon shift at the BBC's Delhi office were asked to work from home, while those present in the office were asked to leave early.
A BBC employee based in New Delhi told AFP that the tax raid was in progress and that officials were "confiscating all phones."
Another BBC staffer based in Mumbai confirmed the broadcaster's office in India's commercial hub was also being raided.
An official at the scene said: "There is government procedure happening inside the office," declining to disclose their department. Meanwhile, the Income Tax Department could not be reached for comment by AFP.
Last month, the broadcaster aired a two-part documentary alleging that Hindu nationalist Modi ordered police to turn a blind eye to sectarian riots in Gujarat state, where he was premier at the time. The violence left at least 1,000 people dead, most of them minority Muslims.
India's government blocked videos and tweets sharing links to the documentary, using emergency powers under its information technology laws. Government adviser Kanchan Gupta had slammed the documentary as "hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage."
University student groups later organised viewings of the documentary despite campus bans, defying government efforts to stop its spread. Police arrested two dozen students at the prestigious Delhi University after stopping a screening there in late January.
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'Fully cooperating', says BBC
Meanwhile, The BBC said on Tuesday that it is "fully cooperating" with the Income Tax authorities and hoped that the situation will be resolved "as soon as possible."
The UK-headquartered public broadcaster did not give further details of what has been described as "surveys" by the I-T department. "The Income Tax Authorities are currently at the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai and we are fully cooperating," a BBC spokesperson said in a statement.
"We hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible," the spokesperson said.
The documentary also triggered coordinated Indian diaspora protests at BBC offices across different UK cities at the end of last month. Earlier, The UK government responded in the House of Commons to the protests by insisting the BBC as a media organisation was "independent in its outlet" and reiterating its commitment to enhancing ties with India.
Press freedom in the world's biggest democracy has suffered during Modi's tenure, rights activists say. India has fallen 10 spots to 150 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, since he took office in 2014. Critical reporters, particularly women, say they are subjected to relentless campaigns of online abuse.
Media outlets, international rights groups and foreign charities have also found themselves subjected to scrutiny by India's tax authorities and financial crimes investigators. Late Catholic nun Mother Teresa's charity last year found itself temporarily starved of funds after the home ministry refused to renew its licence to receive foreign donations. Amnesty International announced it was halting operations in India after the government froze its bank accounts in 2020, following raids on its offices.
In 2021, Indian tax authorities raided a prominent newspaper and a TV channel that had been critical of the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, triggering accusations of intimidation.
ALSO READ | Centre claims BBC documentary on PM Modi a 'Propaganda piece'
'Campaign of violence'
The 2002 riots in Gujarat began after 59 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a fire on a train. Thirty-one Muslims were convicted of criminal conspiracy and murder over that incident. The BBC documentary cited a previously classified British foreign ministry report quoting unnamed sources saying that Modi met senior police officers and "ordered them not to intervene" in the anti-Muslim violence by right-wing Hindu groups that followed.
The violence was "politically motivated" and the aim "was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas", the foreign ministry report said. The "systematic campaign of violence has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing" and was impossible "without the climate of impunity created by the State Government... Narendra Modi is directly responsible", it concluded.
Modi, who ran Gujarat from 2001 until his election as prime minister in 2014, was briefly subject to a travel ban by the United States over the violence. A special investigative team appointed by India's Supreme Court to probe the roles of Modi and others in the violence said in 2012 it did not find any evidence to prosecute the then chief minister.
(With Inputs from AFP, PTI & IANS)