Taxmen At BBC Offices For 2nd Day, Most Employees Asked To WFH

Sources say the taxmen will today focus on the accounts department

New Delhi:

Searches at the BBC’s offices in Delhi and Mumbai continued today for the second day as Income Tax officials investigated UK’s national broadcaster, weeks after it aired a controversial documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), in an email to employees, urged all but its broadcast department to work from home. “Employees can refrain from answering questions on personal income if asked so. They should answer other salary-related queries,” said the broadcaster, advising its staff to cooperate with the officials and “answer questions comprehensively”.

Tax officials questioned the senior management of the BBC and searched staff computers using the keywords “tax”, “bills” and “black money”, sources said. Mobile phones of some senior employees have been cloned, sources said.

Tax authorities are investigating allegations of illegal tax benefits, tax evasion, “significant” diversion of profits and non-compliance of rules by the BBC. The BBC had been served notices in the past but had been “defiant and non-compliant”, sources claimed.

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry said the survey was “not a sudden decision” and was part of a process after the BBC “failed to respond” to various questions raised by tax officials.

Opposition parties and press groups have, however, linked the searches to the BBC’s two-part series, “India: The Modi Question”, which takes a critical view of PM Modi’s handling of the sectarian riots that swept Gujarat in 2002, when he was Chief Minister.

The News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA) expressed “deep anguish” and said such tax “surveys” lead to consistent harassment of the media, which also “impact the reputation and image of India as the world’s largest democracy”.

The US said it was “aware of the survey” but was “not in a position to offer judgement”.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: “We support the importance of free press around the world. We continue to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief as human rights that contribute to strengthening democracies around the world. It has strengthened this democracy here in this country. It has strengthened India’s democracy.”

There has been no official response from the UK.

The government has slammed the BBC documentary as “hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage”.

The Centre last month used emergency powers under IT Rules to block YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the documentary. Protesting censorship, opposition leaders and students organised public screenings of the documentary, which led to many campus clashes.

The ruling BJP tore into the BBC for what it called “venomous, shallow and agenda-driven reporting” and said the Income Tax department should be allowed to do its job. “If they have not done anything illegal, then what’s the worry?” said BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia.

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

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