THIS is one interrogation which will leave Rabri Devi stumped for answers. Last September, when the investigation wing of Patna's Income Tax department served a showcause notice on Laloo Prasad Yadav, asking him to explain his various assets, he shot back: ask my wife.
In a suo motu reply to the IT department filed last October, Rabri Devi came up with the time-tested explanation that the assets had been accumulated over the past 10 years with her "personal income from agriculture, dairy farming and the dowry from her parents". She explained that her "dairy income" came from 28 cows, all born from one cow she got as part of the dowry. Rabri Devi also said she earned more than Rs 1lakh a year from the five bighas of land in her ancestral Salarkalan village in Gopalganj. In what appeared equally ludicrous to IT officials, Rabri Devi confessed that she had "no knowledge of whether she had to file income tax returns" and, therefore, had not done so in the past.
The IT has roughly estimated Rabri Devi's tax liability at Rs 50 lakh and the case rests on her investments which include a row of properties in Patna: a sprawling 4,000 sq ft house in Sheikhpura, a 5,000 sq ft house in Kautilya Nagar and a 2,000 sq ft bungalow in Mitra Mandal colony in Saket Vihar, three acres of prime land in Danapur and bank and post office deposits totalling over Rs 20 lakh. While the post office deposits are in the names of Laloo's nine children, Rabri Devi has a lot of explaining to do since Laloo has taken the plea that "his income is only the salary he drew as an MLA, MP and then CM". What makes the situation difficult for Rabri Devi is the fact that most of these investments were made between 1990-96, when Laloo was in positions of power. Says an insider: "This is just the tip of the iceberg. The former CM's worth would be more than a 100 crore."
Rabri Devi, who has not yet been personally summoned by the IT and is being grilled through her advocate B.N. Nayak, has offered a string of excuses: that the Sheikhpura house was bought in 1984 and the land at Danapur was purchased in 1993 for Rs 2.5 lakh. But the IT is not prepared to swallow the line. They have already established that the Sheikhpura property was bought in 1990 and placed the net worth of the Danapur land at approximately Rs 2 crore. "Rabri Devi's explanation was ridiculous. It's like saying that a property in New Delhi's posh Greater Kailash was bought for Rs 2 lakh," says an insider.
"It is a simple case of assets which are disproportionate to the known sources of income and Rabri Devi, who has been a simple housewife, will be hard-pressed to explain it," says one IT official. Emboldened by the CBI's stand, IT officials are probing leads on other investments made by Laloo in Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. A probe has been launched on Laloo's brothers-in-law—Subhash Yadav and Sadhu Yadav, whose IT returns for 1996-97, according to insiders, are unsatisfactory. But despite the aggressive posture, the IT department is yet to raid Laloo's houses; Laloo and Rabri haven't yet been served summons for personal appearance; and it has made no attempts to seal her bank lockers. Says Vijay Sharma, deputy director (investigations), Patna: "These are extremely sensitive cases. One has to tread with a lot of caution."