Income Tax searches trigger political storm in Karnataka, Kumaraswamy leads protest

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Over 20 locations searched across the State, unaccounted cash seized

Searches by Income Tax officials on premises linked to leaders of the Janata Dal (Secular) and their associates across six districts in south Karnataka triggered a political storm on Thursday. The searches, coming just 20 days ahead of the election, were conducted in Bengaluru, Mandya, Mysuru, Hassan, Chikkamagaluru and Shivamogga.

The ruling coalition — the JD(S) and the Congress — closed ranks and condemned the BJP government at the Centre for misusing official machinery against the Opposition. Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy later led a protest in front of Income Tax Department offices in Bengaluru.

The action came within hours of Mr. Kumaraswamy predicting a “massive IT search” against JD(S) leaders on Wednesday evening, with I-T sleuths reaching the premises of politically connected businessmen around midnight in Bengaluru.

Soon, the searches expanded, with I-T officials reaching the residences of Minor Irrigation Minister C.S. Puttaraju at Chinakurali in Mandya district early on Thursday. The raids covered the premises of Mr. Puttaraju’s two nephews.

Others targeted were at least five contractors believed to be close to Public Works Minister H.D. Revanna, and two senior PWD engineers in Hassan. Sources said searches by officials continued late on Thursday and were likely to be widened. I-T sources said the searches were based on “credible information” that certain contractors had received favours while works were awarded, and the possibility of these funds being used during the election. In all, 20 locations were searched and a couple of crores of unaccounted money was seized.

CM leads protest

Senior cabinet Ministers of Karnataka, led by Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah staged a protest in front of the offices of the Income Tax Department in Bengaluru on Thursday evening as day long raids against Janata Dal (S) leaders and their associates continued across six districts in south Karnataka.

Mr Kumaraswamy said the misuse of Central agencies to create an environment of fear by the BJP was setting the States on a collision course with Centre.

Congress and JDS activists who tried to storm the Income Tax office were arrested and later released as the protest led to massive traffic jam’s on arterial Queens Road.

As the protests continued with colaition leaders accusing the BJP-led NDA at the Centre of misusing the official machinery, the I-T Department, in an unprecedented move, clarified that no sitting minister, MP or MLA had been investigated.

Defending the I-T Department’s operations, former chief minister and Karnataka BJP chief B.S. Yeddyurappa said said the searches were not politically motived. “I-T Department has searched BJP linked people too,” he said.

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