The newspaper, Dainik Bhaskar, said tax inspectors visited its offices in the capital New Delhi and in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan in the early morning hours.
The newspaper shocked India by reporting corpses in the Ganges during the brutal second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic this spring. He criticized authorities for underreporting Covid-19 deaths and challenged state officials and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over their handling of the crisis.
“The government cracked down on the group that represented an accurate picture of what happened to the country during the second wave of Covid-19,” the newspaper wrote in a report on the tax raid published Thursday on the home page of its edition in Hindi. The 63-year-old company also publishes newspapers in the Gujarati and Marathi languages.
In its report, the newspaper added that tax officials also searched the home of several Dainik Bhaskar employees and seized the phones of those present in his offices.
“The government is doing its job, and we are doing our job,” Om Gaur, national editor of Dainik Bhaskar, told CNN Business. “The truth is always bitter, but we crosscheck all our facts before publishing”,
In May, Gaur had led the newspaper’s coverage of corpses floating in the Ganges, as the official death toll from Covid-19 began to exceed 4,000 a day. However, Indian and international experts say these numbers don’t show the real picture.
A working paper released this week by the US-based Center for Global Development found that the excess death toll during the pandemic in India could be up to ten times the official toll.
Between 3.4 million and 4.9 million estimated excess deaths were reported in India between January 2020 and June 2021, the US think tank said – compared to the death toll reported by India’s health ministry about 400,000.
“State officials have tried to shut down our coverage several times over the past few days and have even threatened us with legal action,” Gaur told CNN Business in May.
A spokesperson for the Central Direct Taxation Council did not respond to a request for comment from CNN Business. But several senior opposition politicians said the newspaper was being punished for publishing reports critical of Modi’s handling of the second wave.
“No one would have thought that the Modi government would be so afraid”, the national opposition party, the Congress, tweeted
in response to the raid.
“The attack on journalists and media houses is another BRUTAL attempt to stifle democracy,” wrote Mamata banerjee
, the chief minister of the state of West Bengal and leader of a regional opposition party, in a post on Twitter. “#DainikBhaskar bravely reported on how @narendramodi ji mismanaged the entire #COVID crisis and led the country to its most horrific days amid a raging pandemic.”
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who belongs to a smaller opposition party, said the raids were a clear signal that Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party will not forgive those who dispute it.
“It’s a very dangerous way of thinking,” he said. added
in a tweet in Hindi. Kejriwal too retweeted
a message from Dainik Bhaskar’s account which said “I am independent”.
The Press Club of India, meanwhile, noted
he “deplores such acts of intimidation by the government through executive agencies to deter independent media from fulfilling their duty to serve society.”
According to Reporters Without Borders, India is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists “who try to do their job well”. It ranks India 142nd out of 180 countries in its world press freedom ranking.
In 2017, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation raided the offices and homes of the founders of NDTV, a prominent broadcaster that is often seen as critical of the Modi government. The agency said it was investigating a bank loan, while NDTV called it an attempt to undermine “democracy and freedom of speech in India”.