"Law is taking its own course and there is no witch hunt against anyone at all as this government does not believe in interfering"; This was the immediate response of Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu when NDTV raised witch-hunt allegations against it by the BJP government following CBI raids on the news channel.
However, the recent developments in the case suggest that, apart from law taking its own course, there is a push from the part of Modi government to 'intimidate and paralyze' the channel.
In an apparent act of witch-hunt, the Income Tax Department on Thursday demanded the channel to pay a whopping amount of Rs. 429 crores "immediately now”.
This is the first time in the country a channel is being asked to pay such a huge amount as fine without any notice period.
In a statement published on its website, NDTV called the move a 'sinister' one.
“ The Income Tax Department's letter, sent today, says NDTV has to pay the amount "immediately now" (sic!). A demand for immediate payment without any notice period is unheard of and smacks of sinister motives by the IT Department”, the statement reads.
It also said that the Centre move to intimidate the channel 'has expanded to epic proportions in the last 24 hours'.
As of now three Central agencies, CBI, Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax Department, are looking into the NDTV case.
All three agencies are attacking NDTV over one transaction in which GE, USA, made a $150 million investment in NDTV - a perfectly legitimate and publicly, officially declared investment - which they are calling a “sham transactionNDTV statement
The NDTV statement also added the the whole world is watching this witch-hunt against independent media and it will 'irreversibly hurt India's reputation as a democracy with a flourishing and free press'.
The channel claimed that the IT Department action is blatantly unlawful as it has not even completed the assessment of NDTV as directed by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT).
Earlier, the ITAT had told the IT Department to make a fresh assessment on no less than four issues. “These instructions have been flat-out ignored by the IT Department in rushing its tax demand to NDTV”, the channel said.
After listing other reasons to call the IT department act 'blatantly unlawful', the channel asserted that the new urgency 'reflects instructions to punish NDTV and to issue a warning to the media at large of the consequences of balanced journalism'.
Previously, the CBI has sent NDTV a letter demanding documents from NDTV and itsubsidiaries for an unspecified period.
Apart from this, the Enforcement Directorate informed the Bombay High Court on Wednesday that it is investigating NDTV for violations under PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act), about which the channel has not been informed yet.
“The ED has already spent a good part of the year summoning NDTV management and questioning them repeatedly, without informing the company of what it has done wrong”, the statement said.
The statements concluded that it will not be cowed down by the massive pressure from the government.