The Income Tax Department conducted searches at the offices of the Dainik Bhaskar Group across the country for alleged tax evasion, officials said.
The searches were conducted at the residential and office premises of its promoters across 32 locations in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
No official statement was issued by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), but tax officials confirmed the searches against the media group.
Government sources said the allegations relate to “huge tax evasion” and “bogus expenses and purchases using shell entities”.
“The Group has floated several paper companies for this purpose, with their employees as shareholders and directors. The money siphoned off in this manner is routed back into various personal and business investments. The searches have been resorted to after carrying out analysis of departmental database banking enquiries and other discrete enquiries,” the sources said.
In a statement, Dainik Bhaskar said the Income Tax searches were the result of its aggressive and fearless journalism on mismanagement during the second Covid-19 wave — it had done a series of stories on deaths during the second wave, and of bodies being dumped along the Ganga.
“The officials took mobiles and laptops of the night shift workers present in the offices. Due to this, the work of digital news was affected for several hours,” it said.
Employees and reporters, it said, were questioned by the tax department officials.
“Usually I-T raids investigate departments related to financial transactions, but here the work of journalists was disrupted by scanning documents and electronic devices related to editorial content,” it said on the tax searches in its offices in Rajasthan.
In Bhopal, the night shift reporting team and desk staff were stopped from working from 4 am to 5 am, it said. “Laptops were switched off due to which the team could not do their work. Mobiles were confiscated and (the staff) prevented from going out even after the morning shift was over. All were held hostage till 1 pm on Thursday,” it said.
On its website, Dainik Bhaskar claimed that news about the searches was published only after the I-T officers there had read it. “The officers sitting in Bhaskar’s office have been instructed that every news related to the raid should be published only after showing it,” it said.
The I-T Department, in a Twitter post, said: “These allegations are absolutely false & are categorically denied by IT Dept. In keeping with the Department’s protocol, the Investigation team only looked into the financial transactions of the group related to tax evasion.”
Divya Bhaskar Gujarat editor Devendra Bhatnagar said I-T officials conducted searches at their corporate office on the Sarkhej-Gandhinagar highway in Ahmedabad.
“First, they tried building pressure through different manners. For the past two-and-a-half months, both the Central and state governments have stopped advertising (in the newspaper). It is their call, they can stop it. Despite that, whenever the government did something good, we published it. And when they did something wrong, we published that too. These raids are a reward for continuous reportage by Bhaskar, exposing the wrongs,” Bhatnagar said.
In addition to DB Corp Ltd, its listed entity that is engaged in the media business, the Dainik Bhaskar Group is present in sectors such as power generation and real estate development of commercial and residential properties.
The power generation business under the banner of DB Power Ltd operates a 1,200-MW coal-based thermal power plant in Chhattisgarh and a 1,320-MW coal-based thermal power plant in Madhya Pradesh. The company incurred a net loss of Rs 35.83 crore in 2017-18 and cash profit of Rs 183.38 crore, according to Brickworks Ratings.
As part of its real estate business, DB Infrastructures Pvt Ltd, the Group has developed several commercial and residential properties in Indore, Gwalior, Bhopal, Ahmedabad and Raipur.
On its website, DB Infrastructures states: “DB Infrastructures is promoted by Dainik Bhaskar group , which is originally a media conglomerate, but diversified into real estate/infrastructure, power, and textile business sector”.
DB Corp had revenues of Rs 1507.70 crore in 2020-21, down from Rs 2223.70 crore in 2019-20, while its net profits fell to Rs 141.33 crore from Rs 274.88 crore during the same period, as per data from the BSE. On Thursday, shares of the company closed down 3.25 per cent at Rs 105.60 at the BSE.
Apart from the flagship Dainik Bhaskar newspaper published in Hindi, the company also publishes newspapers in Gujarati and Marathi, has five portals and four apps.
According to information on BSE, as of June 30, 2021, the Agarwal family that owns the DB Group held 15.38% of share in DB Corp Ltd, the Group’s media business entity, while 54.71% promoter share is held by DB Consolidated Pvt Lt and 1.72% by Bhaskar Publications and Allied Industries Pvt Ltd.
Income Tax department raids multiple premises of media group Dainik Bhaskar