June is the month when most of us grapple with our tax declarations. The government makes it easy for a few taxpayers who are hapless enough to earn only their monthly pay — they need to fill a Saral form that merely notes the tax deducted by their employer. Other, more enterprising folks, are expected to tell the taxman how much they made from rent, interest and profits over the previous financial year. Typically, a person employed by a company with some money in the bank, a demat account and a house put out on rent will need to furnish a salary statement from her employer, an interest statement from her bank, a profit statement from her broker and rent receipts from her tenant. Millions of people do this year after year with mild muttering under their breath over how much the taxman takes away.
Contrast this with what Baba Ramdev declared on Thursday. Four of his trusts — Divya Yoga Mandir Trust, Patanjali Yoga Peeth Trust, Bharat Swabhiman Trust and Acharyakul Shiksha Sansthan — had a total capital of Rs. 426.19 crore. These trusts had spent Rs. 751.02 crore since inception. No details of where the money came from or where it went, apart from Rs. 249 crore spent on charity. As declarations go, Ramdev's brevity is remarkable. Presumably donations by yoga aficionados make up for the bulk of the trusts' inflows, but there is the little matter of the 30-odd companies, including a television channel and a transport firm, the yoga instructor controls. They are diligently filing their profit and loss statements with the Registrar of Companies, claims the yogi and teasingly enjoins his detractors to seek the truth there. But this was supposed to be a declaration, not an investigation.
The dusty altar of the corporate registry is not exactly forthcoming about companies listed therein. Some details like ownership and line of business are available in the public domain. Vital ones like income and profit are not. Privately held companies mind their own business and are wont to erect high walls to guard against prying eyes. Their books are open to investigators on specific complaints, certainly not for fishing expeditions. If the body-shaping yogi's intention was to give his opponents a glimpse of his financial muscle, the declaration of assets will have served its purpose. Untangling the sinews of his business empire will take considerable time and effort by investigation agencies. Certainly longer than the hunger strike the Baba is on to force the government to commit to stiffer anti-graft measures. It would take a brave man to launch an agitation against sleaze if there is some to be found in his backyard.