In the early hours of Thursday, Income Tax officials conducted a search and seizure operation at the homes of Minor Irrigation Minister CS Puttaraju and his relatives. The operations were carried out just hours after Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy announced that over 300 I-T officials along with CRPF jawans were en route to Mandya to conduct raids on JD(S) leaders.
I-T sleuths who came in several vehicles during entered CS Puttaraju’s ancestral home at his home town Chinakurali in Mandya’s Pandavapura. They also conducted search and seizure operations at the home of Puttaraju’s nephew Ashok located in Mysuru city’s Vijayanagar area. Ashok is a contractor for national and state highway works. Income Tax sources say that Puttaraju’s close aide Ramesh, another class 1 contractor, may also face search operations due to his close proximity with the minister.
Income Tax department sources said that the raids were conducted based on concrete information that huge amounts of cash were being kept at the homes of Puttaraju and his supporters.
“The department gathered information that over Rs 40 crore cash was being kept at Puttaraju’s house, which was being used for election purposes. The search operations were conducted to see whether the money is accounted for, and how the minister procured the cash. We also received information that the money was brought in to distribute it to voters,” the I-T source said.
Search and Seizure operations are underway at the homes of several class one contractors and close associates of Public Works Department Minister and brother of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, HD Revanna in Hassan, too, sources said. The homes of Revanna's associates Ashwath Narayan Reddy and Raya Gowda were raided. The sleuths also conducted raids on the Public Works Department office in Hassan. Search operations were also conducted at the office of Sruthi Motors in Shivamogga. Sources say that the owner of the outlet DT Parameshwar is a close associate of the JD(S) candidate from Shivamogga, Madhu Bangarappa.
The Income Tax officials also conducted a search and seizure operation at JD(S) veteran BM Farooq's office loacted on Residency Road in Bengaluru. The officials also raided the home of a PWD contractor in Chikkamagaluru.
The I-T searches sparked protests by Puttaraju's followers who had gathered at Chinakurali and shouted slogans against the BJP government.
Speaking to media, Puttaraju said that the raids were political and targeting JD(S) leaders. He also blamed independent candidate from Mandya LS seat, Sumalatha Ambareesh. “The BJP believes that the raids will help the candidate they are supporting. If the BJP believes this, then they are just dreaming,” CS Puttaraju said.
Puttaraju is one of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy’s most trusted lieutenants and is also a member of Kumaraswamy’s coterie of advisors. Puttaraju was put in charge of handling the election campaign of Nikhil Gowda, the Chief Minister’s son, who is the Congress-JD(S) coalition’s candidate for Mandya.
“Hon'ble PM Narendra Modi is misusing the Income Tax Department to threaten the political leaders of Karnataka from JD(S) and Congress during election time. They have planned to conduct I-T raids on our important leaders. This is nothing but revenge politics. We will not be cowed down by this,” Kumaraswamy had tweeted on Wednesday night.
The Chief Minister on Thursday dubbed the I-T raids surgical strikes by the Prime Minister and accused Income tax officers of corruption.
“PM Narendra Modi’s real surgical strike is out in the open through I-T department raids. The Constitutional post offer for I-T officer Balakrishna helped the PM in his revenge game. Highly deplorable to use govt machinery, corrupt officials to harass opponents during election time,” he alleged, referring to the DG of Income Tax departments for Karnataka and Goa, who was promoted during the Modi regime.
The Chief Minister had Wednesday warned that he would follow what his West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee did to counter the alleged 'misuse' of central agencies. Mamata Banerjee had staged a "Save the Constitution" dharna between February 3 to 5 in Kolkata after the CBI's failed bid to question Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar in connection with chit fund cases.
Congress and JD(S) party workeres also announced that they would stage a protest outside the Income Tax Department's office in Bengaluru later in the day.