Officials from the Income Tax department searched the Delhi and Mumbai offices of the BBC for a second day Wednesday, amid growing criticism of the ruling BJP for an I-T ‘survey’ that comes smack in the middle of a row over the banning of a documentary critical of prime minister Narendra Modi‘s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, when he was the chief minister.
I-T officials – who have not made a formal statement explaining the reason for the ‘survey’ – have been present at the offices since 11.30 am Tuesday.
The Indian government has said detailed information will be released when the ‘survey’ is completed. Union minister Anurag Thakur said: “Income Tax department conducts surveys… where irregularities are found… when survey is completed they give information by a press note or press briefing.”
The British national broadcaster late last night urged staff to ‘continue to co-operate with ongoing enquiries; it said it was cooperating fully with the authorities and that it hopes to resolve the situation ‘as soon as possible’.
“The Income Tax authorities remain at the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai. Many staff have now left the building but some have been asked to remain and are continuing to co-operate with the ongoing enquiries.”
“We are supporting our staff and continue to hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible. Our output and journalism continues as normal.”
Unnamed sources told news agency PTI tax officials are looking at documents related to the BBC’s business operations and its Indian arm.
Officials said they were inquiring into issues related to international taxation and transfer pricing of the broadcaster’s subsidiary firms. Officials also alleged the BBC was ‘non-compliant’ despite having been served notices.
A BBC employee from the Delhi office said phones and laptops were seized.
READ | I-T ‘survey’ at BBC’s Delhi, Mumbai offices sparks row
The United Kingdom government has said it is ‘closely monitoring’ the ‘survey’ but has also stressed the independent nature of the BBC’s editorial operations.
The I-T department’s searches – slammed as the ‘throttling of freedom of expression’ – have been denounced as an attempt to intimidate the media.
Several Congress leaders, including party chief Mallikarjun Kharge, ex-union minister P Chidambaram and Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel have tweeted, as have lawmakers from the Shiv Sena, the Trinamool and the DMK.
READ | How global watchdogs reacted to tax searches at BBC India offices
The United States has said it is aware of the ‘survey’ but cannot offer any judgment. However, State Department spokesperson Ned Price also underlined the importance of a free press and its role in ‘strengthening democracies’.
The I-T department’s ‘survey’ comes after controversy over a two-part BBC documentary titled ‘India: The Modi Question’ taken down from social media, prompting anti-censorship protests and petitions before the Supreme Court.
The top court was also approached with a plea to ban the BBC in India, but justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh junked it, calling it ‘misconceived’.
With input from agencies