- Election Commission had told probe agencies to be neutral in their raids
- The poll body has asked senior tax officials to explain the recent raids
- Opposition has alleged centre using raids to harm political opponents
The Election Commission met the income tax department chief and the revenue secretary today to discuss tax raids across the country, just days before the national elections starting Thursday. The opposition has alleged the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government is using the tax department to harass and intimidate them before the elections, after a string of raids on people linked to opposition leaders - Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath - raised their suspicion.
Revenue Secretary AB Pandey and Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) Chairman PC Mody met the poll body's officers in Delhi to explain the raids.
The Election Commission in a statement said issues "arising out of the advisory of the Election Commission... regarding all enforcement actions being neutral, impartial and non-discriminatory and its implementation were discussed in detail."
The Revenue Department also replied to a letter by the Election Commission on Sunday that the tax raids must remain politically neutral and its officers should inform the poll body in advance before any such exercise is undertaken.
In the letter, the department said it "fully agrees with the observation that there is a need to conduct operations ruthlessly to contain this malpractice". The reply, however, does not refer to the part in the Election Commission's letter that the chief electoral officer should be informed in advance about any tax raids while the poll code is in force.
"Before such operations are undertaken, there has to be information and actionable intelligence available with the income tax authorities, so that they can act in the matter. As a rule, we always follow that practice. We understand the words 'neutral', 'impartial' and 'non-discriminatory' mean that we must act as and when information is available against anyone, irrespective of political affiliation. This is precisely the practice that the department follows and will continue to do so," the Revenue Department said in the letter signed by Arvind Saran, Deputy Secretary.
The Revenue Department also requested the Election Commission to ask its field officers to pass any relevant information about "use of illicit money in electoral process" to the tax department for "taking further necessary action".
The Election Commission's letter on Sunday came after the opposition parties approached it over frequent tax raids just before the elections, alleging the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was using constitutional bodies to cripple and weaken them before the national elections starting Thursday.
A string of tax raids since March that started with searches on the premises of people linked to the Congress-JDS coalition in Karnataka and the latest sweep at the homes of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath's aides have spooked the opposition.
Former finance P Chidambaram has also warned of an incoming tax raid at his home in Sivaganga, from where his son Karti Chidambaram is contesting the Lok Sabha elections. "I have been told that the IT department has plans to raid my residence in Sivaganga constituency and in Chennai. We will welcome the search party," P Chidambaram tweeted on Monday.
The tax department maintains the raids are not politically motivated, and leaders should refrain from making baseless comments on the raids.