Quint Employees Allege IT Officials Reading Emails, Cloning Gadgets During 'Survey'

Bahl said he has asked the officers not to "try and pick up or see any other mail/document which is likely to contain very serious/sensitive journalistic material".

New Delhi: The Income Tax Department on Thursday “surveyed” the premises of offices affiliated with media baron Raghav Bahl in connection with a case of alleged tax evasion, officials said, as well as his residence.

The officials told PTI that a team raided the residence of Bahl in Noida early in the morning and are looking for documents and other evidence related to the case under probe. The Quint‘s office in Delhi was also reportedly searched.

Bahl is the founder of the Quint news portal and the Network18 group and is a known media entrepreneur.

The Quint offices in Noida were also searched. In a note to the Editor’s Guild, Bahl said,

I have a matter of great concern to share with the Guild. While I was in Mumbai this morning, dozens of IT officials descended on my residence and The Quint’s office for a “survey”. We are a fully tax compliant entity, and will provide all access to all appropriate financial documents. However, I have just spoken to the officer on my premises, one Mr Yadav, and requested him, strongly, to not try and pick up or see any other mail/document which is likely to contain very serious/sensitive journalistic material. If they do that, then we shall seek extremely strong recourse. I do hope the EG will back us on this, and thereby set a precedent for any such exercise that may happen on any other journalistic entity in the future. They should also not misuse their smartphones to take unauthorised copies of this material. I am now on my way back to Delhi.

Quintillion is also an investor in The News Minute, and officers from the IT department also went to The News Minute’s office in Bengaluru. According to the website, officers said that the visit was a ‘survey’ under Section 133a of the IT Act, and not a search or raid. “The officers asked for financial documents and audit books to be shown to them,” The News Minute reported.

“We are complying with the requests of the officers at our premises,” Dhanya Rajendran, editor-in-chief, The News Minute, was quoted as saying.

Apart from Bahl, three other “beneficiaries” and professionals – J. Lalwani, Anoop Jain and Abhimanyu – are also being searched, officials told PTI.

Poonam Agarwal, associate editor at Quint, has alleged that IT officials were attempting to clone data from Quint founder and CEO Ritu Kapur’s gadgets at her residence.

Tushar Banerjee, head of product and growth at Quint, said that the IT officials were preparing a list of employees at the organisation.

He also said later that the officials were reading daily editorial emails.

The Editor’s Guild issued a statement on the IT department’s activities, “expressing concern”.

In an article posted on their website, Quint has said that the IT officials claimed “they are conducting a “search” on one floor of the office, and a “survey” on the other”. There are important difference between the two, the website has pointed out – “when a survey is conducted, the officers cannot take away anything from the premises, while they can do so during a search”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also tweeted their concern at reports of gadgets being cloned.

Amnesty International too issued a statement, saying that the search operations indicate a clampdown on free press. “The Income Tax Department’s ‘search’ on Quintillion Media Private Ltd, which runs a news website ‘The Quint’, and the homes of its owners, Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapoor, indicates a clampdown on free press. It raises disturbing questions on whether the news website is being targeted for speaking truth to power. It appears that the authorities are attempting to silence anyone expressing views that are critical of the government,” the statement says.

NDTV India editor Ravish Kumar condemned the raids in a post on Facebook.

The Congress party also tweeted that the Narendra Modi government is using the “CBI and ED to suppress free speech”.

The Aam Aadmi Party too shared a similar opinion.