- The offices of Quintillion Media (Quint and Quintype) were raided yesterday by Income Tax officers citing a ‘search and survey’, which allegedly went on for 22 hours.
- I-T officers at the office also asked for a list of employees and their contact details, outside of requests for the accounts books and other revenue information.
- According to The Quint’s report, I-T officers also went to the houses of Raghav Bahl (Editor-in-chief of the Quint) and Ritu Kapur (CEO).
- The searches for both the office and the residence were warranted under Section 132 of the I-T Act, not Section 133A, according to the Quint’s report.
- The Bangalore office of The News Minute, in which Quintillion Media holds a stake, was also surveyed. The News Minute’s editor-in-chief Dhanya Rajendran is reportedly said that the organisation was complying with the requests of the I-T officers in their office.
I-T dept looking for bogus Long Term Capital Gain beneficiaries
An India Today report stated from an I-T source that these searches were connected to ‘bogus long term capital gain received by various beneficiaries’ while adding that the premises of 3 other beneficiaries Kamal Lalwani, Anup Jain and Abhimanyu were also ‘covered.’ It is unclear if the I-T warrant only included the bogus capital gains or if it meant to cover anything else.
“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.” – The Quint report
A couple of hours ago, Bahl put out another statement which said that the company had done everything legally and that it was in the clear, as well as their personal finances were properly filed with the department.
— Raghav Bahl (@Raghav_Bahl) October 12, 2018
Bahl: We will seek strong recourse if journalistic documents are checked
Bahl issued a statement to the Editor’s Guild stating that the company was a “fully tax compliant” and “will provide all access to all appropriate financial documents.” He also added that he asked one of the I-T officers in the Quint Noida office to not pick up or see “any other mail/document which is likely to contain very serious/sensitive journalistic material” failing which “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.”
- The Editor’s Guild’s statement mentioned that “..motivated income tax searches and surveys will seriously undermine media freedom and the government should desist from such attempts.”
- The Committee to Protect Journalists, Asia division also said that this was an attack on journalistic freedom.
- Amnesty International India’s statement said that the raid “indicates a clampdown on free press. It raises disturbing questions on whether the news website is being targeted for speaking truth to power. It appears that the authorities are attempting to silence anyone expressing views that are critical of the government.”
Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur’s phones were cloned?
According to their accounts, it seems that Bahl and Kapur’s phones were attempted to be cloned.
IT officers are trying to clone data from @kapur_ritu‘s gadgets. When she screamed and asked me about the law of privacy and whether they can clone her journalistic and personal material, while I was standing outside her residence, two IT officers pulled her inside the house.
— Poonam Agarwal (@poonamjourno) October 11, 2018
It is unclear whether the phones were actually cloned, and if data was transferred from their phones to the I-T officers. There has been no update about this.
There is no doubt that looking at sensitive materials of journalists is a serious breach of the press’ freedom. India’s press freedom is already low (138 out of 180) and dropped 2 points in its ranking last year, according to Reporters Without Borders. It is essential to nurture what little freedom the press has.
Also read: HuffPost India’s If 2017 Was A Terrible Year For The Freedom Of Press In India, 2018 Isn’t Looking Any Better