Rights

After Bank Seeks Details of Foreign Donations, Farmers' Union Accuses Govt of 'Intimidation'

Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) said that the notice and IT raids are part of the Centre's plan to snuff out the farmers' protest.

Mohali: The foreign exchange department under the Punjab & Sind Bank has sought details of foreign donations made to the general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, who has been agitating against the government’s farm laws for over four months now.

BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan) is one of the largest farm unions agitating against the government, with more than one lakh people gathered at the Tikri border under its banner.

“On December 18, the bank manager of Punjab & Sind Bank in Kokri Kalan village told me that he has received an email saying that the donations received in my account have not been received under the rules mandated by the government,” Kokrikalan told The Wire. 

The rules mandated by the Reserve Bank of India say that accounts which receive money from donors who are not Indian citizens must have a Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976 (FCRA) license. The bank manager of the Punjab & Sind Bank confirmed to The Wire that the account holder, Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, doesn’t have the required license. However, no license is required if the donors abroad are Indian citizens, i.e. NRIs.

But according to Kokrikalan, the government is trying to “intimidate” the protesting farmers. “Earlier also we were getting donations from abroad but we were not scrutinised, only now they have asked us to provide details,” Kokrikalan said.

“As our expenditure has risen because of the movement, and as we have been asking for donations through our social media – we’re seeing a rise in donations,” he added.

A bank official, who wished to remain anonymous, also said that in the past, donations made to the account in question were not scrutinised.

Kokrikalan said that he, along with other members of his union, will consult their lawyer and chartered accountant and reply to the email received from the bank.

Income Tax raids on Commission Agents

Arhtiyas (middlemen) working across Punjab have alleged that investigators from the income tax department reached the homes and offices of at least seven of them on December 19 and another seven on December 20 in order to “intimidate” them. All arhtiyas of Punjab have been supporting the farmers in the agitation against the government’s Central farm laws for over four months now.

Reportedly, the properties of those people were raided who are at the forefront of providing their support to the movement.

Harjeet Singh, vice president of the Arhtiya Association, Punjab told The Wire that a bus full – bearing an Uttar Pradesh registration number – of I-T investigators and CRPF officials had come to the home of one one of their members in Patiala.

“Almost all properties, including homes, shops, even hotels were raided on two nights. Such an action has never been taken before. They only took away some of our account books and nothing else,” he said.

Speaking to The Wire, Mulk Raj Gupta, president of the Patiala Arhtiya Association said, “The raids were done only to inform us that we must not support the farmers or take a step against the government. That’s it. They just mildly checked our logbooks and told us to back off from the protests.”

In defence of the I-T raids on arthiyas, the agitating farm union leaders have said that if ‘such intimidation by the government continues’ then farmers will gherao income tax offices across Punjab.

According to the Indian Express, the income tax department in Chandigarh was contacted but they remained tight-lipped about the raids.

Starting December 21, all arhtiyas of Punjab have called for a five-day mandi strike. All APMC market yards will remain shut to protest the government action on the arhtiyas.