Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav on Sunday defended his family’s ownership of the plot on which Bihar’s biggest mall is under construction on the outskirts of Patna. “What is wrong with my family members owning the company? It has been done legally. If I have land, why can’t I use it commercially? It’s a conspiracy to malign my family’s image,” he said, according to The Telegraph. However, the ownership of the mall remains unclear.

The 2-acre plot and the mall being constructed on it were drawn into controversy last week following allegations of a soil purchase scam involving Tej Pratap Yadav, who is Bihar’s environment and forest minister.

The RJD chief acknowledged that his wife Rabri Devi and sons Tej Pratap and Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, who is Bihar’s deputy chief minister, have stake in Lara Projects LLP, which owns the land. “My sons have provided the details of their shares in the company in their affidavits and assets declarations; they also file income tax returns every year,” he added.

However, the affidavits and assets declarations of his sons uploaded on the Election Commission and Bihar Cabinet Secretariat’s websites do not mention Lara Projects LLP or Delight Marketing Company Pvt Ltd, as it was previously known, according to The Telegraph.

The Bharatiya Janata Party in the state has alleged that a hotelier had given Yadav the plot of land worth around Rs 100 crore in return for railway hotels. The party claimed Yadav had been given this during his term as railway minister between 2004 and 2009. The former Bihar chief minister, however, said the railway hotels in Ranchi and Puri had been allotted during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as prime minister between 1998 and 2004.

“[BJP leader] Sushil Kumar Modi...has made a very ugly allegation saying I have given away railway hotels in lieu of land. You should ask this to the NDA government because the hotels were given on lease under Vajpayee. It’s their government; cancel the lease now,” the RJD chief told reporters. “People who always cry ‘ghotala-ghotala’ [scam] are themselves scamsters,” The Times of India reported him as saying.

The land in question near Saguna Mor earlier belonged to RJD leader MP Prem Gupta and his family, when it had been called Delight Marketing. Tej Pratap, Tejashwi Pratap and their sister Chanda Yadav became directors at the firm in 2014. It was renamed to Lara Projects Pvt Ltd in November 2016 and became Lara Projects LLP in February this year with Rabri Devi and her two sons as directors.

Gupta, who had flanked Yadav during his meeting with reporters, said his company was “transferred to” Lara Projects on the “decision of the board of directors”. “It was transferred in accordance with rules and the payment was made through cheque,” he said, though he did not explain why it was transferred to the Yadav family.

Patna Zoo controversy

State Chief Secretary Anjani Kumar Singh on Thursday had ordered an investigation into the claims following reports that soil from the Saguna Mor mall property was sold to Patna Zoo for Rs 90 lakh without following the mandated process to acquire a tender.

Operations of the Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park – better known as Patna Zoo – are regulated by the Bihar Forest Department. A large amount of soil was dug up from the plot in suburban Patna, where the project to construct the mall is being undertaken by Meridian Construction India Ltd. RJD MLA from Sursand Syed Abu Dojana owns Meridian Construction India Ltd.

Sushil Kumar Modi had demanded an all-party committee inquiry into the matter along with Tej Pratap Yadav’s resignation from the Bihar Cabinet after the soil controversy had cropped up.