Former Bihar chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad was Saturday convicted by a special CBI court here in a second case related to the Rs 950-crore fodder scam of the mid-90s. The quantum of punishment will be pronounced on January 3, the day after the court reopens after winter break.
Lalu was convicted and sentenced to five years in jail in the first fodder scam case in 2013. The conviction barred him from elections for 11 years, in line with the Supreme Court order disqualifying convicts jailed for more than two years from contesting for six years after completion of their sentence. Lalu has appealed against his conviction.
The CBI court in Ranchi is currently also hearing four other fodder scam cases in which the RJD chief is among the accused. Jharkhand High Court had stayed these trials after upholding his plea of “double jeopardy”, but the Supreme Court set aside the High Court order in May this year.
Besides Lalu, 15 others were convicted Saturday. Another former chief minister of Bihar, Jagannath Mishra, and five other co-accused were, however, acquitted by the court.
This led senior RJD leader and former union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, who was present on the court premises, to say, “Jagannath Mishra ko bail aur Lalu ko jail… abhi yehi hai khel (bail for Mishra and jail for Lalu, this is the game now)… When both were facing exactly the same charges in the same case, how can one get bail and the other be jailed?”
He was disappointed with the judgment, Singh said, but not disheartened. “We are always among the people. We are used to fighting. We will fight,” he said, emerging from the scrum of news television crews and supporters who surrounded him completely, causing him to stumble twice.
Mishra, a three-time Congress chief minister of Bihar, claims he has given up politics and is no longer close to any political party or leader.
Lalu himself came out of the courtroom to loud slogans of “tere peechhe saara zamaana, Lalu Yadav mat ghabraana (we are all with you, Lalu don’t worry)”.
Supporters thronged him as he walked to the vehicle waiting to take him to Ranchi’s Hotwar Central Jail. Some of them banged on the vehicle in an apparent attempt to stop it.
The FIR in this case, RC-64-A/96, was registered by the CBI on May 15, 1996, on the directions of Patna High Court. The chargesheet was filed on October 28, 1997, and charges were framed on September 26, 2005. The prosecution alleged that between 1991 and 1994, when Lalu was chief minister of undivided Bihar, Rs 89.27 lakh were withdrawn fraudulently from the Deoghar treasury, using fake allotment letters and vouchers.
Thirty-eight people were accused in the case. Two had pleaded guilty earlier. At least 11 others, including alleged main conspirators S B Sinha and Ram Raj Ram, died during the course of the trial. Three turned approvers. Verdict was passed on the remaining 22 Saturday.
Among the charges against Lalu was that he, along with some other accused, had tried to scuttle the probe and protect the alleged perpetrators of the scam. Counsel for Lalu, Chitranjan Sinha, said: “We will have to wait for the complete order. We will request the court for the least punishment.”
He added: “We are of the view that the acquittal of Jagannath Mishra means that the charge of criminal conspiracy against my client is now ruled out, because both the leaders were facing exactly the same charges. The prosecution had pointed out that some of the withdrawals were done using letters written by Mishra. If he is acquitted, then the question of criminal conspiracy doesn’t arise. Therefore, primarily the charges against Lalu would pertain to Section 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code, and charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The case against our client (for a lenient punishment) has become stronger.”
Efforts to reach CBI counsel Rakesh Prasad were unsuccessful.
The accused reached the court of Special CBI Judge Shivpal Singh around 11 am. However, the pronouncement of judgment was deferred to 3 pm. When the accused reached the court again, they had to wait for their turn as another case, pertaining to the dismissed IG P S Natrajan, who was accused of sexually abusing a tribal woman, was dealt with first. The court acquitted Natrajan of all charges. As he emerged from the courtroom, some waiting reporters briefly reported that Lalu had been acquitted, but corrected themselves immediately.