IT officials 'survey' The Quint, Editors Guild upset

New Delhi, Oct 11 (IANS): Income Tax officials on Thursday carried out "surveys" at the residence and office premises of Raghav Bahl, head of news portal The Quint, over alleged tax evasion, provoking angry reactions.

According to the officials, a team reached the residence of Bahl -- the former head of Network18 TV -- in Noida in Uttar Pradesh and looked for documents and evidences related to the case being probed.

A senior tax official told IANS that surveys were also carried out at the premises of three other persons over the issue of "bogus long-term capital gains obtained from the sale of some particular companies.

"This issue is about Rs 100 crore worth. We are particularly looking at the tax evasion angle," the official said.

The Editors Guild expressed concern over the government action, saying "motivated income tax searches and surveys" will undermine media freedom.

The Guild noted that Bahl had to warn the officials that if they tried to touch anything not relevant to tax issues, he "shall seek extremely strong recourse".

The tax official said the three others covered under the tax surveys were Kamal Lalwani, Anup Jain and Abhimanyu Chaturvedi.

In a note to the Editors Guild, Bahl said The Quint was a "fully tax compliant entity" and would provide all access to all appropriate financial documents.

The Editors Guild said in a statement that while the Tax Department was "within its right to make inquiries", it should not exercise its powers in a way that could be seen as an "intimidation of the government's critics".

"The Guild believes that motivated income tax searches and surveys will seriously undermine the media's freedom and the government should desist from such attempts," it said.

It said it was "perturbed" over Bahl's statement that he had to strongly advise the tax officials that they should not try and pick up or see any other mail or document which was likely to contain sensitive journalistic material.