Income Tax teams ‘survey’ BBC offices over ‘violation’ of laws

Action comes just weeks after the BBC released film on Gujarat riots; BJP says ‘some sections can’t digest India’s growing heft on the world stage’

Updated - February 15, 2023 02:22 am IST

Published - February 14, 2023 12:51 pm IST - New Delhi

Police personnel outside the BBC office at Kasturba Gandhi Marg in New Delhi, one of the BBC offices where survey by the Income Tax department is being carried out on February 14, 2023.

Police personnel outside the BBC office at Kasturba Gandhi Marg in New Delhi, one of the BBC offices where survey by the Income Tax department is being carried out on February 14, 2023. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The Income Tax Department on February 14 conducted a survey on offices of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Delhi and Mumbai. The move came weeks after the BBC released a two-part documentary “India: the Modi Question” pertaining to the 2002 riots.

Government sources said the BBC was being investigated over a “charge of deliberate non-compliance with Indian laws including transfer pricing rules and diversion of profits illegally”. The ruling BJP, holding a presser within minutes of the news of the “survey” breaking, termed the move as “lawful” stating that “some sections can’t digest India’s growing heft on the world stage.”

Reacting to the development, a BBC spokesperson said: “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 cooperate with the ongoing inquiries. We are supporting our staff during this time and continue to hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible. Our output and journalism continues as normal and we are committed to serving our audiences in India.”

The British High Commission did not offer a formal response. Sources said that the U.K. government was “closely monitoring” the reports of tax surveys conducted at the offices of the BBC in India. The BBC is a public corporation that is a part of the U.K. Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Also Read | PM Modi documentary row: Hindu Sena puts up anti-BBC placards outside BBC’s Delhi office

BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia addressed a presser at the BJP’s headquarters in New Delhi and said that “any media organisation functioning in India will have to follow the rules and regulations of the country,” and accused the BBC of propaganda adding that it was on the same lines as the opposition Congress’ agenda. “The BBC has become the most ‘Bhrasht Bakwaas Corporation’ in the world. Unfortunately, BBC’s propaganda and Congress’ agenda are on the same lines. Today, India is attaining great heights under PM Modi’s leadership and some sections do not like this. The BBC has all rights to do journalism in India, but they will have to abide by the law of the land,” Mr Bhatia said.

Government sources meanwhile said that the key focus of the surveys was to look into “manipulation of prices for unauthorised benefits, including tax advantages”, adding that “these surveys have been undertaken due to BBC’s persistent non-compliance of the norms, making it a repeat offender.”

Listing the alleged irregularities, the source said the BBC was “non-compliant under transfer pricing rules; persistent and deliberate violative of transfer pricing norms; and deliberately diverted significant amount of the profits and have not followed the arm’s length arrangement in the case of allocation of profit”.

Compared to “search”, a “survey” exercise is limited in its scope as the agency visits commercial premises of an assessee usually during the office hours, can only impound transaction records for scrutiny and seek clarifications from the functionaries concerned. The Income-Tax Department draws the power of “survey” under Section 133A of the Income-Tax Act.

As the “survey” was taking place, Mr Bhatia gave instances when the BBC had allegedly insulted Indian sentiments. “In one of its programmes, the BBC referred to a terrorist operating in Kashmir (slain LeT commander Burhaan Wani) as a charismatic young revolutionary. What kind of journalism is this? You (BBC) are working in India but trying to sabotage our Constitution. In another report, it said Holi is a ‘filthy’ festival. What do you (BBC) know about our festivals? In another report, they insulted our icons saying that Mahatma Gandhi failed to liberate India in 1946,” Mr. Bhatia said.

He further attacked the Congress citing the ban on BBC imposed by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. “BBC should also remember what UK’s longest serving Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said about them. She said the BBC is ‘Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation’. Also, the Congress should remember that Indira Gandhi, too, had put a ban on the BBC. India is a country that provides opportunities to every organisation to work under its laws, provided they don’t have a hidden agenda and are not spewing venom against the country,” Mr. Bhatia added.

He questioned the opposition on their comments on the ongoing survey. “My question to the Congress and other Opposition parties is that when the survey (at BBC offices) has not even come to any logical conclusion, on which basis are they standing with the ‘anti-national’ forces? Why can’t they wait patiently for the report? Why is it that the Congress always stands with China, BBC, and even terrorists?” Mr Bhatia added.

Also Read | Over 500 scientists and academics denounce ‘censorship’ of BBC documentary on PM Modi

We condemn ‘intimidation tactics’, shows govt. scared of criticism: Congress

The Congress termed as “intimidation tactics” the Income Tax survey operation at the BBC offices and alleged that the action shows that the Modi government is scared of criticism.

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said that while the party is demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe on the Adani issue, the “government is after the BBC”.

He also used a Hindi idiom to attack the government, saying “Vinash Kale, Vipreet Buddhi” (When doom approaches, a person’s intellect works against his interest).

(With inputs from agencies)

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