Reacting to raids being conducted by the Income Tax Department at various locations of the Dainik Bhaskar Group, the newspaper on Thursday, 22 July, termed themselves as presenting a true picture of the government's flaws and said that the latter was afraid of their journalism.
They also put out a tweet in Hindi, which read, "I am free, because I am Bhaskar. Bhaskar will run only at the discretion of the readers."
Meanwhile, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur attempted to delink the Centre from the raids, saying, as per NDTV:"Agencies do their own work, we don't interfere in their functioning. I would also like to say that facts need to be found before reporting about any incident. Sometimes lack of information is misleading."
The I-T searches are being conducted in Bhopal, Jaipur, and other locations, including the Press complex.
This comes weeks after Dainik Bhaskar's coverage of the COVID-19 horrors drew attention to the failures of the Narendra Modi government amid the second wave.
Speaking to Newslaundry last month, the paper’s Gujarat editor Devendra Bhatnagar said, "Our chairman, Ramesh Aggarwal, used to say, ‘See the way it is and write what you see.’ So, we write whatever the truth is." He added, "Today, in this pandemic, people are dying and the government is trying to suppress the truth. The readers want the truth to be told. And if I hide the truth from our readers at such a time, I’d be betraying my profession."
'Fearless Journalism': Dainik Bhaskar Responds
In an article published soon after the raids began on Thursday, Dainik Bhaskar said that several offices of the Bhaskar Group were raided by the Income Tax Department in the early hours of Thursday.
Teams of the department raided offices located in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Rajasthan, the newspaper said, adding that these searches are still underway.
Bhaskar also claimed that the I-T teams also conducted searches at the homes of many people working in the organisation, adding that mobile phones of employees present in the offices have been confiscated and they are not being allowed to go out.
According to them, employees on the night shift have been barred from leaving the office, and told that they are part of the process. However, Bhaskar's digital night team was allowed to leave at 12:30 pm.
The reply from Bhaskar went on to add that during the second wave, the newspaper presented the real situation in India to the country through their reportage, whether it was bodies in the Ganga or hiding deaths due to COVID-19.
"Bhaskar showed fearless journalism and kept the truth in front of the public," the newspaper said, and added screenshots of their various reports on the topics.
Allegations of 'Huge Tax Evasion': ANI, Citing Govt Sources
News agency ANI cited anonymous government sources as saying:
The Dainik Bhaskar group is involved in various sectors, the major ones being media, power, textiles and real estate, with a group turnover of more than Rs 6000 crores per annum
The group has more than 100 companies including the holding and subsidiary companies
The main persons of the group are three brothers: Sudhir Agarwal, Pawan Agarwal and Girish Agarwal
The flagship company is DB Corp Ltd, which publishes news daily Dainik Bhaskar
The coal-based power generation business is carried in the name of M/s DB Power Limited.
Meanwhile, ANI has also cited government sources as claiming that there are "allegations of huge tax evasion by the group". The group, as per the unnamed sources, carried out the evasion "by claiming bogus expenses and purchases using shell entities."
The Dainik Bhaskar group has reportedly "floated several paper companies for this purpose, with their employees as shareholders and Directors".
ANI's unnamed government sources have further alleged:
The money siphoned off in this manner is routed back into various personal and business investments, in the form of share premium and foreign investments through Mauritius-based entities
Names of 'the family members' also figured in Panama leaks case
The searches have been carried out after an analysis of departmental database banking enquiries and other discreet enquiries.
The news agency's sources have also reportedly said:
"A search under Section 132 of Income Tax Act is being carried out in Dainik Bhaskar group offices. Total of 32 premises, consisting of residential and business premises spread over Mumbai, Delhi, Bhopal, Indore, Jaipur, Korba, Noida & Ahmedabad have been covered."
I-T Raids on UP's Bharat Samachar
Additionally, the I-T department is also searching the Lucknow premises of news channel Bharat Samachar as well as the home of its Editor-in-Chief Brajesh Mishra. As per sources, offices and residences of promoters are being searched, ANI reported.
NDTV reported that Bharat Samachar had recently been critical of the UP government in its coverage.
'Paying a Price': Congress, Opposition Leaders React
Congress leader and member of Rajya Sabha from Karnataka Jairam Ramesh said that the news organisation was 'paying a price' for the government's mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis.
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee also condemned the raid, referring to it as "a vindictive act that aims to suppress voices that bring out the truth".
Congress leader Digvijay Singh referred to the action as "Modi-Shah's attack on journalism" and added that the I-T, ED, CBI are their "only weapons."
Former Union Minister Arun Subhash Yadav wrote in Hindi, "The income tax raids on Daily Bhaskar's offices show that Modi ji has a problem with the truth. CBI, I-T, ED are brought forward whenever he's afraid."
Trinamool Congress' Mahua Moitra wrote:
(With inputs from NDTV and ANI.)