The Income Tax Department’s “survey” of BBC India’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai came to an end Thursday night, the British broadcaster said. The “survey” had lasted for almost three days.
The IT department started a “survey” on Tuesday to look into questions about how BBC subsidiary companies are taxed internationally and how transfer prices are set. As part of the operation, officials were getting financial information from some employees and making copies of the news organization’s electronic and paper data.
Two people close to the situation told The Deccan Era that survey or search actions are not usually used in transfer pricing cases, but that they are likely being used in this case because of “non-compliance.”
The tax department took action a few weeks after the British broadcaster put out “India: The Modi Question,” a documentary about the 2002 Gujarat riots, on January 17. A few days later, the Central government told YouTube and Twitter to take down links to the documentary. Officials said it “undermined the sovereignty and integrity of India” and had “the potential to harm” the country’s “friendly relations with foreign states” and “public order within the country.”
After these “surveys,” the BJP also attacked the BBC, calling it the “most corrupt and rubbish corporation” and saying it had a history of working with “malice against India.”
On February 3, the Supreme Court sent a notice to the Centre about petitions that questioned what the Centre had done in response to the BBC documentary. A group of judges made up of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and M M Sundresh asked the government for all relevant records and set up a hearing for April to talk about the case.
BBC says, “Stand with our colleagues who report without fear.”
After the three-day “survey” of the BBC’s offices in Delhi and Mumbai by the Income Tax Department was over, the BBC said Thursday that it stood by its journalists, who “will continue to report without fear or favour.” The “survey” was done by the Income Tax Department. The BBC said that the safety of its employees was its top priority. They were “longly questioned” by authorities or “asked to stay overnight.” It said that its output was “back to normal” and that it was still “committed to serving” its audiences in India.
“Our offices in Delhi and Mumbai have been closed by the Income Tax Authorities. We will keep working with the authorities and hope that things get sorted out quickly. We’re helping staff, some of whom have been questioned for a long time or had to stay overnight, and their safety is our top priority. The BBC said in a statement Thursday night that their output was back to normal and that they were still committed to serving their audiences in India and around the world.
Nitish slams the IT surveys on BBC property and the refusal to look into Adani Group.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told the news agency PTI on Friday that the Income Tax department’s inspections of BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai were a “clear cut” sign that the Narendra Modi government doesn’t like criticism.
The JD(U) leader also criticised how quickly the Centre turned down the request for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the allegations against the Adani Group. He said that this was different from the Vajpayee era, when the voice of the opposition was heard with patience.
“I’ve been busy with my Samadhan Yatra for the past few days. But I heard about it (IT raids) in the news. When asked about the action against the international broadcaster, Kumar said, “I will try to find out more about it.”
Some people believe foreign news sources more than Indian ones: Rijiju on I-T survey on BBC
Union Minister of Law Kiren Rijiju slammed those who criticised the Income Tax survey at the BBC on Thursday. He said that some people trust foreign news outlets but not Indian investigative agencies.
Rijiju shared an article by former Prasar Bharti CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati in which he said that the anger over the BBC’s tax survey in India was misplaced. Vempati said that the anger was coming from the wrong place. “These people believe foreign news sources, but not Indian ones. They swear by the BBC, but they won’t believe Indian courts. “They’ll even abuse the Supreme Court if one decision goes against them,” he wrote on Twitter.
In the past, the BBC has had problems with the IT department.
Before, the tax department had marked BBC World Distribution Ltd’s distribution income as taxable as royalties and was trying to figure out if it had a Permanent Establishment (PE) in India.
The Deccan Era had previously reported that the Delhi Bench of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal ruled in December 2022 that the company’s distribution revenue from the BBC World News Channel in India is “not in the nature of royalty.” It also said that this income had already been taxed by an Indian company, BBC World India Pvt. Ltd., and that “no part of such income can again be attributed to the assessee fictitiously and taxed in India.” It asked the tax authorities to remove this addition for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 assessment years.
Even though the I-T survey on Tuesday has nothing to do with this case, sources say that the tax department has had problems with the BBC in the past for not following transfer pricing rules.
How the parties in opposition reacted
The Congress said that the move shows that the Narendra Modi government doesn’t want to hear criticism. The government was criticised by both the CPM and the BSP.
“First, stop showing BBC documentaries. No JPC/enquiry into Adani exposures. Now IT is raiding the BBC! “Mother of Democracy” India?” asked Sitaram Yechury on Twitter. He is the general secretary of the CPM.
Mehbooba Mufti, a PDP leader and former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, criticised the government by saying, “It is clear that raids on the BBC Office were done for a reason. GOI is going after people who tell the truth without shame. Be it opposition leaders, the media, activists, or just about anyone else.”
Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, called the Income Tax Department’s surveys at BBC offices a “political vendetta” of the BJP government. She also said that the action against the British broadcaster hurt the freedom of the press.
Akhilesh Yadav, who is the leader of the Samajwadi Party, said that the “surveys” were a “vaicharik aapatkal” (ideological emergency).
(With PTI inputs)