The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Laloo mum at maiden court show

New Delhi, July 28: Laloo Prasad Yadav made a maiden appearance in the Supreme Court in the fodder-scam hearings today as a bench reserved its verdict on his plea to club all five cases.

The bench of Justices S.. Variava, P. Venkatarama Reddi and Ashok Bhan heard arguments for and against the merger plea of “Lalu” (as spelt in apex court records). Laloo Prasad wanted all the cases in Jharkhand to be heard by a single court in Ranchi.

The apex court proceedings were overtaken by the former Bihar chief minister’s sudden and rather colourful appearance. A large crowd of lawyers, court employees and other litigants gathered in all the corridors leading to court no. 7.

Mein pehli baar aaya hoon meri case sunne ke liye (I have come for the first time to listen to the hearings),” Laloo Prasad said inside the court.

But he refused to speak any further. “Ek shabd bhi isse jyada nahi bol sakta hoon (Not a word more than this),” he said.

Though he brushed aside television crew and reporters refusing to say anything more than “case sunne aaye”, he willingly signed autographs for quite a few women lawyers.

Once inside, he keenly watched his senior counsel Ram Jethmalani contend that offences of “the same conspiracy” in the “same transaction” should be heard by one court; segregation of these cases meant “harassment” to his client.

Jethmalani, a former Union law minister, said the CBI chargesheets in all five cases were related to one “parent case” with “one criminal conspiracy” towards “one transaction” of withdrawal of money by bogus and illegal creation of vouchers and records from five treasuries in the same state for the purported purchase of fodder.

So, he argued, the five cases should be heard together in keeping with several decisions of the apex court and the privy council in a 1935 decision — still followed in several Indian rulings.

Additional solicitor-general Mukul Rohtagi countered saying the persons involved in the five cases were different, officers of the five treasuries were different and the transactions were done in different periods between 1986 and 1999. So the cases could not be clubbed together, he argued.

Rohtagi said 174 of 460 witnesses had already been examined. But Jethmalani contended that 58 witnesses were the same in all five cases and these witnesses would have to be examined five times if the cases were conducted separately.

Laloo Prasad sat through the proceedings that lasted over two hours, during which Jethmalani often referred to him as “chief minister”.

When the judges asked “which chief minister” he was referring to, Jethmalani said “the ex-chief minister”. He was quick to add that “it is said he is still the de facto chief minister”.

Laloo Prasad, who was sitting in the advocates’ enclosure, joined in the chorus of laughter that followed.

The decision on his merger plea will be pronounced soon.

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