Income Tax officers on Thursday, 11 October entered the office of Quintillion Media Pvt Ltd in Noida, which runs the website The Quint and is owned by Raghav Bahl. According to the I-T officer leading the team, they were conducting a “search” on one floor of the office, and a “survey” on the other.
I-T officers were also present at the residence of The Quint’s Editor-in-Chief Raghav Bahl and CEO Ritu Kapur, and the office of Quintype (another company within the same corporate group), and also conducted a survey at The News Minute (which Quintillion Media holds a stake in) in Bengaluru.
The search at the Noida premises ended almost 22 hours later, at 6.00 am on Friday morning.
At a press conference in Delhi, Congress President Rahul Gandhi spoke about the Income Tax raids at The Quint’s premises.
“They (The BJP government) will raid, harass, attack and suppress. That’s their agenda... The government is trying to suppress the media.”Rahul Gandhi, Congress President
The Quint’s Statement to Editors Guild of India
In a statement to the Editor’s Guild, Mr Bahl has said:
“I have a matter of great concern to share with the Guild. While I was in Mumbai this morning, dozens of IT officials descended on my residence and The Quint’s office for a “survey”. We are a fully tax compliant entity, and will provide all access to all appropriate financial documents. However, I have just spoken to the officer on my premises, one Mr Yadav, and requested him, strongly, to not try and pick up or see any other mail/document which is likely to contain very serious/sensitive journalistic material. If they do that, then we shall seek extremely strong recourse. I do hope the EG will back us on this, and thereby set a precedent for any such exercise that may happen on any other journalistic entity in the future. They should also not misuse their smartphones to take unauthorised copies of this material. I am now on my way back to Delhi.”
Dhanya Rajendran, Editor-in-Chief of The News Minute said:
“We are complying with the requests of the officers at our premises.”
In response, the Editor’s Guild tweeted expressing “concern” and said, “The Guild believes that motivated income-tax searches and surveys will seriously undermine media freedom and the government should desist from such attempts.”
Powers of search and seizure are provided in the Income Tax Act 1961 under Section 132 of the Act, while powers of survey are defined under Section 133A of the Act. The powers of I-T officers under these provisions of law are not the same – for instance, when a survey is conducted, the officers have only a limited power to impound books of accounts and other such documents (reasons for which have to be specified), unlike their powers during a search.
Apart from books of accounts, and other revenue information, the I-T officers at the The Quint’s office are also asking for a list of employees and their contact details.
The I-T officers initially informed personnel and Mr Bahl that they would be conducting a ‘survey’ at The Quint’s office and Mr Bahl’s residence, but they subsequently clarified that they were conducting a ‘search’ on one of the floors at The Quint, as well as at Mr Bahl and Ms Kapur’s residence. The warrant for these actions was also under Section 132 of the I-T Act, not Section 133A.
Raghav Bahl, Ritu Kapur and The Quint are cooperating fully as required by law to provide information relevant to the I-T authorities but at the same time will not compromise journalistic freedom and privilege. The apparent flip-flop of the I-T officers certainly does not inspire confidence and creates genuine doubts whether the operation is for collateral purposes besides being part of overall messaging to muzzle dissent.
I-T Officers Attempting to Clone Phone Data at the Residence of Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur
The I-T officers at the residence of Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur are also attempting to clone data from Ms Kapur’s gadgets.