Income Tax Department officials on Wednesday raided Karnataka Power Minister DK Shivakumar’s residences and a private resort outside Bengaluru where 44 Gujarat Congress legislators are housed and said Rs 10 crore in cash have been seized.
The taxmen’s searches stoked a major political row as the development echoed in Parliament and triggered cries of foul play by the Congress.
“Our state Investigative Wing is conducting searches at the residence of a Karnataka Minister (Shivakumar) and the room he is staying at a resort (Eagleton) near Bengaluru where some MLAs from another state (Gujarat) are put up,” Income Tax Joint Commissioner S. Ramesh said in a statement in Bengaluru.
The searches were conducted under Section 132 of the Income Tax Act as an evidence-gathering exercise in compliance with statutory requirements, he said.
The searches were believed to have been conducted at Shivakumar’s houses in Bengaluru and Delhi. Officials said Shivakumar’s aide and his driver have been detained for questioning.
“The Income Tax officials seized over Rs 10 crore during the raids at over 39 places in Delhi and Bengaluru,” an IT official told IANS.
“About Rs 7.5 crore was seized in Delhi and Rs 2.5 crore in Bengaluru,” the official said.
The early morning exercise sparked an uproar in both the houses of Parliament where the Congress claimed that it was an attempt to terrorise the Gujarat MLAs ahead of the August 8 Rajya Sabha elections, in which senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel is fighting a close battle to retain his seat. Already six Congress lawmakers have resigned from the Congress.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley rejected charges of political motives behind the searches and said these had nothing to do with the Congress legislators’ stay at the Bengaluru resort and developments in Gujarat.
He said the searches related to “an individual”, an apparent reference to Shivakumar, and said the tax officials visited the resort because he was staying there.
They (income tax officials) had to bring him to his house to check certain documents seized during the searches, Jaitley said.
The Income Tax Joint Commissioner said the searches were in continuation of an investigation going on for considerable time.
He maintained that the timing of the searches was decided well in advance, and that it had nothing to do with the shifting of Gujarat Congress MLAs to Karnataka.
The Congress had flown its 44 Gujarat lawmakers from Ahmedabad on July 29 and lodged them in the Eagleton resort at Bidadi, 30 km from Bengaluru, to prevent the Bharatiya Janata Party from poaching them ahead of the Rajya Sabha poll.
The resort is located in the Bengaluru Rural Lok Sabha constituency, represented by Congress legislator D.K. Suresh, younger brother of Shivakumar, a lawmaker from the Kanakapura assembly segment in the district.
The Congress alleged political vendetta by the BJP-led NDA government and forced repeated adjournments of the Rajya Sabha which wound up business much ahead of schedule because of continued slogan shouting by Congress members in the house.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government agencies were being used to terrorise people just ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections.
“What is happening in this country? This house as well as the Election Commission will have to ensure free and fair elections,” Azad said.
Congress leader Anand Sharma raised the issue in the Rajya Sabha as soon as the house met for the day.
“For the past few days we have been raising our grave concerns about the attempt to derail and hijack elections to the council of states by abusing state power. Today (Wednesday) IT raids were conducted against a Congress minister at the resort where our MLAs are staying,” Sharma said.
In the Lok Sabha, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said the government was using central agencies against opposition leaders.
“In Gujarat, there is election for three Rajya Sabha seats. The Congress had 57 members and support of four others, but they (BJP) broke away five members,” Kharge alleged.
“Now they are using the IT department on our MLAs from Gujarat, who are in a resort in Karnataka. The Income Tax Department is being used to threaten them as well as a Minister of Karnataka,” Kharge said, as members from the treasury benches raised their pitch in protest.
Jaitley denied the allegations. “In that resort where your MLAs are staying, no search has taken place. No MLA has been searched. A particular individual was to be searched. He had parked himself at the resort. The resort is certainly not an immune area,” Jaitley said.
Sharma said the timing of the raids was significant. Jaitley quipped that whether it is use or abuse of authorities will depend upon recoveries.