ibnlive » India

May 07, 2007 at 02:48am IST

Godmen turn conmen, taxman red

New Delhi: Spiritual gurus, babas, Godmen – they are known by many names and are often the repository of a collective religious faith in India.

But the faith has been maligned and many who claim to be Godmen, promising to rid lives of evil are nothing short of evil themselves.

After a CNN-IBN-Cobra Post investigation revealed the ugly side of some the most popular Godmen, sharp reactions have been pouring in.

The investigation caught these gurus - Pilot Baba, a former Indian Air Force officer, Vedanti Maharaj, former BJP MP and Guruvayur Surya Namboodiri, who claims to be an astrologer - on camera and showed how they used their positions to launder money by bargaining like an experienced conmen.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad – to which Vedanti owes his affiliation - seemed eager to distance itself from the baba. VHP Vice President Giriraj Kishore said Vedanti was not a part of the VHP and also blamed the media.

“People like Vedanti are not worthy of being a part of VHP. Also, I think a section of the media is out to malign us. Otherwise what was the need of Shankaracharya being arrested? All this is being done to bring bad name to Hindus. This has nothing to do with religion. Vedanti is not part of any organisation,” Kishore said.

While a red-faced VHP chose to play safe, taxman was less forgiving. CNN-IBN correspondent Shiv Pujan Jha spoke with former income tax commissioner Vishwabandhu Gupta about the illegitimate income tax practices of so-called religious leaders.

Gupta strongly emphasised on bringing these Godmen under the law. Here are the excerpts:

CNN-IBN: Can there be any criminal proceedings initiated against these Godmen?

Gupta: It’s a fit case for criminal proceedings. Two of the biggest religion mafias are the Ram Janmanbhoomi Nyas and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad amongst the Hindus. They have 10 bogus trusts floated from the same address. The names are there (in our record) and so are the addresses. They are getting money from 50 countries abroad and are also getting tax exemptions. There are no accounts as well. You see, this is a big menace. We have calculated and found that religious leaders annually earn $3 bn which is about Rs 10,000 crore -Rs 15,000 crore worth of money. What they do is they get land at throwaway prices. During the last government, 11 including that Sadhvi Ritambhara – whatever her qualifications are – got a fantastic (sic) piece of land at a throwaway price for the services that she heads today. There have fraudulent names, addresses, existences and expenditures. They use it for spreading communal hatred. Money has been used by Bajrang Dal cadres in Gujarat to purchase Motorola, we have got receipts for that.

CNN-IBN: Are there not any checks and balances for these trusts?

Gupta: There are checks and balances. But nfortunately corruption is so rampant. In fact, commissioners who have issued these bogus trusts as genuine should be hauled up by CBI along with the religious mafias in whose collaboration this was done. I don’t’ t know what pay-offs my own officers have received.

Meanwhile, Government too promised action. “We will investigate and take action against any illegal activity,” said Minister of State for Finance, Pawan Bansal.