New Delhi, Jul 22: The Income Tax Department on Thursday conducted multi-city raids against two prominent media groups -- Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar -- on charges of tax evasion, official sources said.
The searches against Dainik Bhaskar are being conducted in Bhopal, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Noida and some other locations in the country.
The premises of the Uttar Pradesh-based news channel Bharat Samachar and its promoters and staffers were raided in Lucknow, they said. Income Tax Raids on Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar Attempt to Scare Media, Says Arvind Kejriwal.
There was no official word from the Income Tax Department or its policy-making body, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), on the raids.
Tax sleuths also raided some premises linked to BJP MLA from UP's Harraiya assembly seat in Basti district Ajay Singh and his associates. It was, however, not immediately clear if the raids on the legislator and the media groups were connected.
Sources said the action against the Dainik Bhaskar group included searches at the residential premises of its promoters in Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal.
Personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Madhya Pradesh Police were seen providing security to the tax officials in Bhopal.
The two media groups have been critical of the COVID-19 management in the country and have done numerous stories highlighting failings of authorities and people's distress during the second wave of the pandemic that peaked in India in April-May.
The Dainik Bhaskar group has presence across 12 states of the country and brings out 65 editions and 211 sub-editions in Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi, according to information provided on the website of its parent company D B Corp Ltd.
It also operates 30 radio stations in seven states and has online presence with six web portals and four mobile phone apps.
The Bharat Samachar TV said on its official Twitter handle that searches are being conducted at the "house of its Editor-in-chief Brajesh Mishra, state head Virendra Singh, houses of some employees and the channel office."
Dainik Bhaskar later posted a message on its website saying income tax teams raided its offices in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
It said the government raids have come against it as it put out the "true picture of the government's inefficiency before the country during the second wave of COVID-19."
It said the raids were carried out at residences of many staffers, they seized the mobile phones of those present in the offices and they were not being allowed to go out.
"Officials involved in the raids said this was part of the process and they will be released after panchmana proceedings are done," it said. It said the digital team working on the night shift was released at 12:30 pm.
It said the tax teams had no women members as it raided its Bhopal and Ahmedabad digital wing offices where female staffers were present.
Senior income tax officers in the team have not clarified the reason for these searches till now, it said.
Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh said on Twitter that tax officials "are present" at at half-a-dozen premises of the Dainik Bhaskar group, including at its office at the Press Complex in Bhopal.
Reacting to the raids, Aam Aadmi Party leader and Delhi Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said they are an "attempt to scare the media."
"Their message is clear that whoever will speak against the BJP government, they will not be spared. Such thinking is very dangerous. Everyone should raise their voice against this," he said in a tweet.
"These raids should be stopped immediately and the media should be allowed to work freely," he added.
Congress leader and Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot said the raids "on Dainik Bhaskar newspaper & Bharat Samachar news channel is a brazen attempt to suppress the voice of media."
"Modi government cannot tolerate even an iota of its criticism. Due to its fascist mentality, the BJP doesn't want to see the truth in a democratic setup," he tweeted.