Journalist Rana Ayyub was falsely accused of parking funds for personal use

The journalist, targeted by trolls, was forced to pay income tax on funds raised for relief during the pandemic while South Delhi Municipality refused to accept funds from her

Journalist Rana Ayyub was  falsely accused of parking funds for personal use

Gautam S Mengle

Hours after Mumbai Police arrested a 24-year-old salesman in a Bhopal garment shop for threatening to rape and kill Mumbai-based journalist and activist Rana Ayyub, trolls attacked her with the year-old accusation that she had raised funds for Covid victims but parked it for her own use. Too much of a coincidence?

The Enforcement Directorate, by now known for its selective leaks, confirmed to a pro-government and rightwing media outlet that it had attached Ayyub’s assets worth Rs. 1.77 crore. This led to more mocking, hate speech, threats and trolling.

Attacks on the feisty independent journalist intensified since she published ‘Gujarat Files’ based on conversations she had with civil and police officers in the state on riots and fake encounters. Her consistent criticism of the Modi Government and the BJP, and her critical columns in international media, notably in Washington Post, made her a soft target. Not surprisingly, neither the trolls nor the ‘media’ which attacked her reported what Ayyub had to say on the controversy.

It apparently started in September 2021, when an outfit calling itself the “Hindu IT Cell” registered an FIR with Ghaziabad police in UP, accusing her of misusing funds she had crowdsourced. She was booked for cheating and criminal breach of trust along with relevant sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Based on this FIR, the ED was quick to launch an investigation.

The media outlet quoted sources in the ED accusing Ayyub of having parked some of the Rs. 2.69 crore that she raised in 2020 for Covid victims. She was also accused of creating fake bills and using it on her own ‘personal’ travel.

The very next day Ayyub issued a statement denying the allegations. Every penny she had raised through Ketto, an online crowd funding platform, was accounted for, she asserted.

She had produced bills and invoices to account for Rs. 40 lakh. She had also issued a cheque for Rs. 90 lakh for the Paediatric department of the Tilak Hospital in New Delhi, but which the South Delhi Municipal Corporation refused to accept.

“I donated Rs. 74.50 lakh to the Chief Minister fund of Maharashtra, for relief work in my home state, and to the PM-CARES fund for relief work across India.”

Thus, out of the total Rs. 2.69 crores raised, more than a crore was accounted for, she pointed out.

The Income Tax Department, however, had claimed the entire sum to be her ‘personal income’ and collected Rs. 1.05 crore by way of taxes. “The remaining amount, which comes to a little less than Rs. 50 lakh, was put in a Fixed Deposit to pay for a field hospital for Covid patients,” she said in her statement.

Ironically, if the Income Tax Department determined the amount to be her personal income and collected the tax due, Ayyub would be entitled to use it as she deems fit.

To put the controversy in perspective, PMCARES Fund, a private trust, raised over Rs.10,000 Crore during the pandemic but has used only about 30% of it for Covid Relief. Why would the ED be interested in the paltry amount raised by Ayyub in contrast is the question.

While the answer is obvious, the controversy does no credit to either the ED or the Government.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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