Modi documentary fallout: Income Tax department searches BBC offices in Delhi, Mumbai

File photo

Reports said that documents were seized and phones and laptops of journalists were taken away during the searches and employees were asked not to call anyone.

Huneza Khan | 

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NEW DELHI — Weeks after a huge controversy erupted over the BBC’s documentary series on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 2002 Gujarat riots, Income Tax officials today searched the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices and seized phones and laptops, news agencies reported.

As per PTI, the IT department officials sealed off the offices for a “survey” linked to alleged irregularities in international taxation and transfer pricing involving the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).

“The Income Tax Authorities are currently at the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai and we are fully cooperating. We hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible,” the BBC tweeted.

NDTV reported that documents were seized and phones and laptops of journalists were taken away during the searches and employees were asked not to call anyone.

The data of the computer kept in the accounts and finance department was also scanned, ANI reported, adding that officials said the devices will be returned to their owners after taking a backup.

Media personnel outside the BBC office in New Delhi amid a survey operation conducted by Income Tax Department officials | Photo: PTI

BBC, in a memo to staff, asked those not in office to stay away and those at work to not panic, reportedly saying, “We are handling the situation”.

Tax officials insisted that this was a survey, not a search, and that the phones would be returned.

In its statement, the I-T dept said, “Today, the Income Authorities conducted a survey on the BBC premises in Delhi, in view of the BBC’s deliberate non-compliance with the Transfer Pricing Rules and its vast diversion of profits.”

According to the statement, “It is pertinent to note that the above exercise conducted by the tax authorities, is called “survey” not search/raid as per the provisions of the Income Tax Act. Such surveys are routinely conducted and are not to be confused to be in the nature of a search/raid.”

The I-T department cited persistent non-compliance by BBC in relation to Transfer Pricing Rules and the diversion of profits.

Meanwhile, opposition accused the government of targeting the BBC for airing a documentary critical of PM Modi over the riots that swept Gujarat in 2002, when he was Chief Minister.

In response, the BJP on Tuesday accused the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) of unleashing “venomous” reporting against India and alleged that its propaganda and the Congress’ agenda go together.

The remarks came soon after Income Tax officials surveyed the British broadcaster’s offices in Mumbai and Delhi.

Addressing a press conference, BJP national spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia rejected the Congress’ criticism of the Income Tax (I-T) action and said the government agency should be allowed to do its job.

“No individual or agency can be above the law. If they are working in India, they need to follow Indian law. If they have not done anything illegal, then what’s the worry? Why are the opposition parties defending the agency for cheap and petty politics,” Bhatia said.

Hitting out at the London-headquartered public broadcaster, he said BBC is the “most corrupt” organisation in the world, adding that the Congress should remember that the then prime minister Indira Gandhi had also banned the broadcaster.

He also mocked the BBC as “Bhrasht, Bakwas Corporation (Corrupt, nonsensical corporation)”.

The two-part documentary series “India: The Modi Question”, was taken down from public platforms last month after Centre used emergency powers under IT Rules to block YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the documentary. The government slammed the documentary as “hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage”.

Opposition leaders and students protested against what they called blatant censorship by organising public screenings of the documentary, which led to clashes on campus between students, college authorities and the police.

“Here we are asking for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the Adani-Hindenburg row, and there the government is hounding the BBC. Vinash Kaale Viprit Buddhi (when one is doomed, one makes wrong decisions),” commented Congress leader Jairam Ramesh.

Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra said in a tweet: “Reports of Income Tax raid at BBC’s Delhi office. Wow, really? How unexpected.”

“When a government stands for fear and oppression instead of fearlessness, then one should realise the end is near,” wrote Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav in Hindi.

Last week, the Supreme Court of India rejected a request for a complete ban on BBC in India over the documentary, calling the petition “entirely misconceived”.


Huneza Khan is a journalist from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. She tweets @KhanHuneza