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Once there was a scam…

Jharkhand Transport Secretary’s conviction apart, the fodder scandal that rocked Bihar, sending Lalu to jail and bringing Rabri to unexpected limelight, drags on 12 years later.

Lalu Prasad Yadav has since moved on to the Centre, reinventing himself as one of the Congress’s most-trusted allies and as the man who hopes to turn around the Indian Railways. Rabri Devi is out of the Chief Minister’s office, and largely out of the national mindscape. However, 12 years after the Rs 950-crore fodder scam, or chara gotala, forced Lalu out of office and saw the unique arrangement that saw Rabri in his place, the case drags on.

The conviction of Jharkhand Transport Secretary Sajal Chakraborty on Monday, the first ever of a serving IAS officer in the scam, may well have boosted the CBI, but it will be some time before the sundry main and offshoot cases are disposed of.

The CBI registered 63 cases in the scam, under IPC Sections 420 (forgery) and 120 (b) (criminal conspiracy) and Section 13 (b) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Of these, 47 are being dealt with by Jharkhand courts, and judgment has been delivered in just 27. So far, 274 people have been convicted. On Monday, Chakraborty was among 64 convicted.

Ironically, the multi-million scam surfaced in 1996 when Lalu as the then chief minister of Bihar constituted a probe into massive irregularities in accounts of government, especially the Animal Husbandry Department. Matters however went out of Lalu’s hand as a PIL was soon filed questioning the motives behind huge fraudulent withdrawals from the government exchequer. The Supreme Court later handed over the case to the CBI.

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Soon too many skeletons were tumbling out of the closet as it was realised that the fraud in the Animal Husbandry Department — under which money for agricultural support programmes was stolen — went back 20 years. Former chief minister Jagannath Mishra found himself in the dock, as did many of those who were part of the probe committee. Finally the net reached as high up as Lalu.

According to indictments in the case, politicians and senior officials in Bihar invented phantom livestock herds, then made fraudulent payments for fodder and medicine for the animals, as well as for artificial insemination equipment.

The first report on Lalu and Mishra’s involvement in the fodder scam was presented by then Vigilance police inspector Bidhu Bhushan Dvivedi to then Vigilance director general G Narayan. The inspector is now a witness in many of the fodder scam cases. Then CBI director, Patna, U N Biswas was hailed for “honestly” pursuing the case against Lalu, at a time when the Union Government of H D Deve Gowda and then I K Gujral depended on the Bihar chief minister for support.

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Lalu is charged in five cases in the scam, four of them pending before Jharkhand courts. Lalu and Rabri were acquitted in a disproportionate assets case, an offshoot of the fodder scam, by a Patna court in December 2006. Four of the cases against Lalu relate to the larger conspiracy behind the fodder scam. In 1997, after a court issued an arrest warrant against him in one of the cases, Lalu had to resign as chief minister. However, he did so after first threatening to unleash violence in the state if he was arrested — prompting the Centre to rush extra forces to the state — and then installing Rabri in his place before he stepped down.

Lalu has been to jail thrice in connection with the fodder scam cases, the longest stint lasting 90 days. With Rabri at the helm, his time in Patna’s Beur Jail may not have been that uncomfortable.

Alongside the Lalu cases, hearing in the others has been dragging on. In June this year, a CBI court awarded four years’ rigorous imprisonment to former IAS officer Sripati Narain Dubey for fraudulently withdrawing Rs 1.47 crore from the Dumka treasury in 1991-92 and 1995-96 as divisional commissioner, Santhal Parganas. Dubey was among the 34 accused convicted.

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Other IAS officers, most of them retired by now, facing charges in the scam are Beck Julius, M C Subarno, Mahesh Prasad, K Arumugham and A C Choudhury.

Sixty-one of the 63 cases are being heard in Jharkhand. In one of the two Bihar cases, Lalu, Mishra, other politicians C P Verma and B R Toofani (now dead) and IAS officer Beck Julius are accused. The case, which relates to fraudulent withdrawal of about Rs 15 lakh, has reached the stage of framing of charges.

CBI advocate L R Ansari told The Indian Express: “The cases in Bihar are getting delayed because the accused in several cases are common. As we are not able to produce some accused here, there has been delay.” Jharkhand is insisting on disposal of cases pending there first, he added.

Besides, there are four disproportionate cases in Bihar involving part-time politician R K Rana (1996), government servant Sheshmani Ram (1997) and former Animal Husbandry in-charge director Ramraj Ram (2000).

With only two persons convicted for fodder scam in the state so far, the CBI advocate says: “There is little chance of any immediate conviction in Bihar.”

Case file

Total number of fodder cases: 63

In Jharkhand: 41

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Cases in which judgments delivered: 24.39 cases in different stages of evidence, framing of charges and trial

Total convicted: 274

Key accused: Lalu Prasad Yadav, Jagannath Mishra, C P Verma, R K Rana, Jagdish Sharma. Lalu accused in five fodder scam cases; Lalu and Rabri acquitted in a disproportionate assets case that was an offshoot of the scam, in December 2006

Latest conviction: Jharkhand Transport Secretary Sajal Chakraborty and 63 others

Number of IAS officers facing trial: 5

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Other convicted officers: Former Animal Husbandry director Ram Raj Ram, former additional director K M Prasad, former Dumka commissioner S N Dubey

First published on: 15-07-2008 at 11:01:58 pm
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