The attempt to intimidate and paralyze NDTV has expanded to epic proportions in the last 24 hours. There are new attacks from the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (scroll down for details). In short, there is a concerted and orchestrated 3-pronged attack on NDTV by the:
2) Enforcement Directorate
3) Income Tax Department
All three agencies are attacking NDTV over one transaction in which GE, USA, made a $150 million investment in NDTV - a perfectly legitimate and publicly, officially declared investment - which they are calling a "sham transaction".
India - and the world - is watching this witch hunt against independent media. It will irreversibly hurt India's reputation as a democracy with a flourishing and free press.
Especially shocking is a demand of Rs 429 crores from the Income Tax Department. The Income Tax Department's letter, sent today, says NDTV has to pay the amount "immediately now" (sic!). A demand for immediate payment without any notice period is unheard of and smacks of sinister motives by the IT Department.
NDTV will not take such arbitrary and illegal action lying down and will take appropriate action in the matter.
The IT Department action is blatantly unlawful for several reasons:
1) The IT department has not even completed the assessment of NDTV as directed by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT).
2) The ITAT had told the IT Department to make a fresh assessment on no less than four issues. These instructions have been flat-out ignored by the IT Department in rushing its tax demand to NDTV.
3) It is unknown in law to make this sort of "partial tax demand" without completing the entire tax assessment.
4) Income Tax law only recognises one assessment order - and the IT Department must complete the assessment including the four new factors raised by the ITAT.
After the ITAT order (based on incorrect facts given by the IT Department), NDTV has, by law, 120 days to appeal. It is shocking that even before the appeal can be filed, the tax department has shown such alacrity in demanding the tax. This is the same Tax Department which dragged its feet for three years, seeking more than 20 adjournments in the ITAT.
The new urgency reflects instructions to punish NDTV and to issue a warning to the media at large of the consequences of balanced journalism.
In an undisguised fishing expedition, the CBI has sent NDTV a letter demanding documents from NDTV and its subsidiaries for an unspecified period - this despite NDTV having supplied more than 500 pages of documents only two weeks ago. Strangely, the CBI does not acknowledge the receipt of these documents.
Separately, the Enforcement Directorate informed the Bombay High Court yesterday that it is investigating NDTV for violations under PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) - it has never, of course, informed NDTV of any such charge. The ED has already spent a good part of the year summoning NDTV management and questioning them repeatedly, without informing the company of what it has done wrong.
The government is making clear the implications of fearless journalism. Despite the illegal and massive pressure, NDTV will not allow its coverage to be affected by these shameful tactics.