The beginning, a CAG report For five years until 1995, during his first term as chief minister (1990-1995), Lalu Prasad had not been tabling the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in the Bihar legislature. It was when he finally did so, months into his second term, in the December 1995 winter session of the Assembly, that the fodder scam first came to light.
The scam is a set of 55 cases relating to the allegedly fraudulent withdrawals of an estimated Rs 950 crore from the state treasury, mostly between 1992 and 1995. Officials of the state animal husbandry department would allegedly withdraw money against fake bills of fodder, medicine and artificial insemination equipment.
Lalu, who had the animal husbandry department under him, then ordered a vigilance department probe and also referred the matter to the Public Accounts Committee of the Assembly. A series of probes later established that the fraud even predated Lalu and went back at least 20 years.
The first report on Lalu and his predecessor Jagannath Mishra’s possible involvement in the fodder cases was presented much earlier, in 1992, by then vigilance inspector Bidhu Bhushan Dwivedi to then director general G Narayan. The inspector is now a witness in many of the cases. Then CBI joint director Upen Biswas was hailed for pursuing the cases against Lalu at a time when the governments of H D Deve Gowda and then I K Gujral depended on the RJD leader’s support.
FIRs registered, trouble for Lalu
Five PILs (later clubbed into one) were filed by BJP leaders Sushil Kumar Modi, Ravishankar Prasad and Saryu Rai, disgruntled Janata Dal leader Shivanand Tiwari and Congress leader Prem Chandra Mishra. It was on the basis of this PIL that the Patna High Court in March 1996 asked the CBI to probe the alleged irregularities.
The first FIR in the fodder cases was registered on January 24, 1996, after then West Singhbhum deputy commissioner Amit Khare detected that Rs 37.70 crore had been fraudulently withdrawn from the Chaibasa treasury (Chaibasa, a municipality in West Singhbhum district, is now part of Jharkhand). FIRs in the other cases were subsequently registered in other police stations across then unified Bihar.
Since the scam involved withdrawals from four treasuries — Patna, Dumka, Chaibasa and Deoghar — of unified Bihar, with the last three of these treasuries now in Jharkhand, all but two of the 55 cases were shifted to Jharkhand.
On March 19, 1996, the CBI formally requested then governor A R Kidwai for permission to prosecute the CM. In June 1997, the CBI filed chargesheets against Lalu and 55 other co-accused in the Chaibasa case under IPC Sections 420 (forgery) and 120(b) (criminal conspiracy) and Section 13(b) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
A month later, on July 25, 1997, after a court issued an arrest warrant against Lalu, he resigned as chief minister and nominated his wife Rabri Devi as his successor.
In all, Lalu was named as an accused in six cases — four in Jharkhand, including the Chaibasa case, and two in Bihar. While three of the Jharkhand cases are pending trial, he has been acquitted in one of the Bihar cases and the trial in the other is pending. So he has four pending cases in all and it’s in these cases that the Supreme Court wants Lalu to stand trial.
The Chaibasa case
Former CMs Lalu and Mishra are accused in the case, besides politicians Jagdish Sharma and Dhruv Bhagat. Seven of the accused died during the trial, including former animal husbandry ministers Bhola Ram Toofani and Chandradeo Prasad Verma. Two other accused, Raghabendra Kumar Das (then administrative officer, animal husbandry directorate) and Deepesh Chandak (fodder suppliers), turned approvers. Then Chaibasa DC Sajal Chakraborty was acquitted.
According to the chargesheet, Lalu,who had taken over as CM on March 10, 1990, and kept the finance portfolio with himself, was aware of the “huge and suspicious withdrawals”. It said that rather than taking any action against alleged scam kingpin Shyam Bihari Sinha (then joint regional director, animal husbandry department, Ranchi; now deceased), Lalu gave him a year’s extension in December 1993 despite the finance department objecting. It was Jagannath Mishra who had recommended the extension. The chargesheet also said Lalu did not respond to a letter that the director of the Central Vigilance Committee, New Delhi, sent to the Bihar government on July 27,1993, seeking an inquiry into corruption in the animal husbandry department.
In 2013, the special CBI court convicted 45 accused in the Chaibasa case, including accused No 20, Lalu, and sentenced him to five years in prison. It’s the only case in which Lalu has been convicted so far — he is currently on bail. Lalu has been jailed three times in fodder scam cases, the longest stint lasting 135 days.
In November 2014, the Jharkhand High Court dropped conspiracy charges against Lalu in another fodder case on the ground that a person cannot be tried twice for the same offence. It’s this order of the High Court that the apex court has set aside.
The DA case
The case, an offshoot of the fodder scam, was registered in 1998 by the CBI against Lalu and his wife Rabri, who was named co-accused for allegedly abetting the crime. The Income Tax department had alleged that Lalu made personal gains from the fodder scam and amassed Rs 46 lakh. In 2000, Lalu and Rabri surrendered before a CBI court. While Rabri immediately got bail, Lalu stayed in Patna’s Beur jail for a month. The Patna High Court granted him bail, which has been extended over 20 times.
In the course of the trial, Lalu told the CBI court through his counsel that his only source of income was a dairy farm. He had explained that at the time of his marriage, he got some cows from his father-in-law, Shiv Prasad Choudhary, and how those cows “multiplied”, contributing to his dairy business. Interestingly, Lalu would often ride a rickshaw during his hearing in the CBI court, an act that, his critics said, was intended to impress upon the court that he was a man of modest means.
On December 18, 2006, a special CBI court in Ranchi acquitted both Lalu and Rabri in the case.