Everyone believes Rajnish Mishra is a millionaire, from his possible employers to the income tax department.
In reality, the 32-year-old labourer from Madhya Pradesh’s Katni is jobless, debt-ridden, struggling to feed his family, and contemplating suicide to end the misery.
“No one is willing to give me a job. Wherever I go, employers mock at me, saying I am a millionaire who should give job to others rather than seeking one,” he said.
Mishra is a victim of perception. His ordeal began when he got an income tax notice in April, 2016 for three accounts in Axis Bank’s Katni branch. He was a helper to an electrician then, paid for his work at the end of the day.
The daily wage earner was shown as the proprietor of a firm, SK Minerals, and more than Rs 18 crore were parked in his so-called accounts between 2008 and 2009. The money was diverted later to other bogus firms, with accounts in the same bank.
A shocked and hapless Mishra went to police and his complaint blew the lid off a Rs 500-crore hawala or money laundering racket in which top businessmen and politicians are allegedly involved.
The scandal offered the BJP’s rivals a handle to attack the state’s ruling party, already smarting from the Vyapam education and jobs scam involving multi-million rupees. But beyond the political battle, investigation is taking its own time. And Mishra is stuck where he shouldn’t be.
“Since April, 2016, I have received multiple income tax notices, including one in December. These say I have to pay tax of above Rs 37 lakh for the money credited into the three accounts seven-eight years ago,” he said.
With no job and a debt of more than Rs 50,000, including outstanding school fees of his three children, Mishra and family is dependent on caterer Keshri Gupta’s generosity.
“The limited food grain I get from my BPL card is not enough. We are surviving on leftover from parties that Gupta caters to,” he said.
His children were not allowed to appear in school exams as their fees were not paid.
“They don’t have clothes and shoes, and could be thrown out of school any day. Tell me what should I do? Wait for more misery or commit suicide with my family?” he asked.
Besides the daily anxiety over making ends meet, Mishra and wife Sunita live in constant fear.
“I am just a small fry. We fear for our lives from those who are behind the racket,” the man said.
The labourer is not the lone victim of the racket that routed illicit funds using fake and dormant bank accounts.
A fellow Katni resident, 35-year-old pathology assistant Umadutt Haldkar, has received a tax notice of Rs 21 lakh for millions of rupees credited into his account with Axis Bank, opened in 2005.
Haldkar has yet to get the passbook, cheque book and ATM cards for the account.
“Instead I got an I-T department notice in 2014. I lodged a case with Katni police and investigation revealed around Rs 2 crore were deposited in that account and withdrawn from ATMs in south India in 2008,” he said.
Haldkar and his wife, an anganwadi worker, earn Rs 10,000 a month.
“Not enough to feed us and our two sons. We live in a thatched hut in Sansarpur village. The stress from the tax notice has made me sick … I have high blood pressure now,” he said.
About 10km from Haldkar’s home lives small-time farmer, 59-year-old Manoj Jain.
Jain too has two sons and his wife is an anganwadi worker. Besides farming, he runs a photocopying machine. The couple’s total income is about Rs 15,000 a month, from which they to budget expenses for his elderly parents who live with him.
The taxmen want him to pay Rs 90 lakh for crores of rupees deposited in an Axis Bank account of Manoj Choudhary, whose residential address matches that of Jain’s. Also, the bank documents show his home as the registered office of a firm, Chandra Traders. The money, like the others, was routed out later.
These people are at their wit’s end. Their complaints are being investigated but police offer little help beyond that.
“Tax evasion and liability isn’t our domain. We can’t help those getting tax notices,” said Katni superintendent of police Shashikant Shukla.