Indian tax authorities have conducted widespread raids spanning “100-plus locations” on the offices of two nonprofits and a foundation that funds several independent media organisations.
The tax authorities have alleged irregularities in financial transactions as reasons for the raid on global nonprofit Oxfam, the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), a major think tank, and the Independent and Public Spirited Media Foundation (IPSMF), which funds several media outlets, some of which have been critical of the government.
The raids conducted on Wednesday at the offices of Oxfam and CPR in Delhi and IPSMF in Bengaluru were dubbed “searches” and “surveys” by tax authorities.
According to an unnamed senior official, the searches were conducted as part of action against some unrecognised political parties, reported The Indian Express.
“Some of these searches against political parties are linked to each other across states and some searches have no link to each other. The tax authorities are conducting searches across 100-plus locations and follow-up action and probe will continue in the coming days also,” the official was quoted as saying to the outlet.
The searches come months after India’s Election Commission in May deleted 87 Registered Unrecognised Political Parties (RUPPs) receiving donations without due statutory compliances.
It also provided a list of 2,174 RUPPs which had not submitted contribution reports to the Department of Revenue under two laws, including the Representation of the People Act, 1951 read with the relevant provisions of the Income Tax Act, 1961.
In June, it “delisted” 111 RUPPs from the register as part of its “graded action” against parties that flouted its rules.
Officials also stated the “surveys” could be linked to alleged irregularities in their fundings.
Another official clarified the difference between a “search” and a “survey” and said the former was an exhaustive exercise wherein all the locations linked to the assessee could be covered and documents, cash and valuables seized, reported The Hindu.
In the latter’s case, survey action remains limited as the agency visits commercial premises usually during office hours and can only impound transaction records and seek clarifications from people concerned.
The Independent has reached out to the three organisations. There has been no statement by them so far.
Former minister Jairam Ramesh said it was “absolutely atrocious that research & advocacy organisations, and independent charitable trusts... have been raided at the behest of” Mr Modi and his aide, federal home minister Amit Shah.
It’s absolutely atrocious that research & advocacy organisations, and independent charitable trusts like CPR, Oxfam and IPSMF have been raided at the behest of Mr. Modi & Mr.Shah. It’s a deliberate move to exterminate all independent media and voices! pic.twitter.com/ZLmB7tHx7l
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) September 7, 2022
According to its website, Oxfam India is a member of the global confederation of 21 Oxfams across the world and is registered as a nonprofit under Indian government rules.
In December, the federal government cancelled a license obtained by Oxfam India under an Indian law that regulates foreign funding. It said the organisation, along with many others, had not applied for license renewal.
The nonprofit had said in a January statement that its renewal application had been denied and the government’s “refusal” to renew it “will severely affect the organisation’s ongoing crucial humanitarian and social work in 16 states across the country”.
CPR is a major Indian think tank that was once headed by scholar Pratap Bhanu Mehta who has been a vocal critic of Mr Modi.
It is now headed by chairperson Meenakshi Gopinath and Yamini Aiyar as the president and chief executive.
On its website, CPR describes itself as “one of India’s leading public policy think tanks since 1973”.
It adds that it is recognised as a nonprofit by the federal government and that it was a recognised institution under the government’s Department of Science and Technology, apart from receiving grants from another government body, the Indian Council for Social Science Research.
The IPSFM is a public charitable trust registered in 2015, which provides financial assistance through grants to independent media organisations in the interest of “distributing public interest information,” as per its website.
Headed by senior editor TN Ninan, its grantees include some of India’s leading independent news organisations including fact-checking website Alt News, law news portal Live Law, The Ken, ThePrint and outlets like The Wire and The Caravan – which are frequent critics of the government.