The Editors Guild of India has expressed its concern over the raids by Income Tax officials at the home and office of media owner Raghav Bahl in Noida this morning.
"While the tax administration is within its rights to make inquiries in compliance with the relevant laws, it should not exercise those powers in a way that could be seen as an intimidation of the government's critics," said the top body of editors representing the media industry.
Mr Bahl informed the Editors Guild that while he was in Mumbai, "dozens of IT officials descended on my residence and The Quint's office for a 'survey'".
The Editors Guild said it is "perturbed over" Raghav Bahl's statement that he had spoken to the officer on his premises and requested him, strongly, to not try and pick up or see any mail or document that was likely to contain very serious or sensitive journalistic material.
"The Guild believes that motivated income-tax searches and surveys will seriously undermine media freedom and the government should desist from such attempts," Editors Guild said.
Mr Bahl said he was heading back to Delhi. "We are a fully tax compliant entity, and will provide all access to all appropriate financial documents," he said.
He also said that his wife and mother were confined to their home and were not being allowed to speak to anybody. "I have got little else to go on right now," he said in a statement to the media.
The searches were in connection with "tax evasion", news agency Press Trust of India quoted officials as saying. Searches are being carried out on a few more people as part of the Income Tax Department's investigation of tax evasion by business professionals, PTI said.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, asked about the raids and whether they were an attempt to suppress the media, said: "We believe in freedom of press and democratic values. If any media house is involved in corruption, they have to answer."
The searches triggered a number social media posts questioning the independence of media. Senior journalist Shekhar Gupta, who is also the president of the Editors Guild, said on Twitter that the raids looked like intimidation of media critical to the government.
Raghav Bahl, one of the biggest names in Indian media, is the founder of The Quint and the Network18 group.
Read the full statement by Editors Guild of India:
(With inputs from PTI)
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