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Judge cold water on fodder fire
- Variava takes back talk of Laloo case pressure

New Delhi, March 17: Justice S.N. Variava has clarified that 'there has been no pressure' on him to change the trial judge in a fodder case, 48 hours after his statement that 'someone had contacted' him with an indirect question created a flutter in the country.

'The person concerned has since clarified to me that the enquiry was just an academic enquiry. I am satisfied that the explanation (that it was an academic enquiry) is correct and my original inference that there was an attempt to influence me was wrong,' the judge said today in a 20-line clarification order.

'It had been indirectly enquired whether the high court could transfer the special judge trying the (fodder) case and the reply (of the judge) had been the high court could do what it wants and we could do what we think necessary,' the statement said.

'Counsel (for the petitioners in the case) had then interjected that pressures were being brought on judges. Because of the large-scale coverage by the media and the consequent controversy it has become necessary for this court to clarify that it was not mentioned or implied by me that pressure had been brought on me to have the special judge changed. There has been no such pressure', the judge said.

As soon as proceedings began in the packed Court No. 5, Justice Variava read the clarification order to clear 'the misunderstanding which has arisen'.

The judge's disclosure on Tuesday had sparked a furore with political overtones since railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav is one of the accused in the case related to the fodder scam. The issue echoed in Parliament also where the government said it is up to the judiciary to order a probe.

Laloo Prasad said today that he and his family 'have been tortured and the media has made mountain out of a molehill by claiming that the fodder case has taken a new turn'.

The clarification order did not reveal the identity of the person who posed the query. But the judge's statement said it is to be clarified 'that no one from the high court or on behalf of the high court had enquired of me'.

Reacting to the clarification, Supreme Court Bar Association president P.H. Parekh said: 'It is not that the judge concerned should have given the clarification on the same day he had disclosed that someone had approached him. It is, in fact, only after taking cognisance of the matter and obtaining the reply of the person, whom the judge need not name, the matter has been taken to its end.'

Agreed Bar Council of India counsel T. Raja, who said the matter 'has ended' and the judge's order is final. 'Normally, in cases like those dealing with contempt, seeking clarification from the alleged contemnor is a judicial function and the judge has performed his duty,' he said.

The court had made the revelation while hearing a public interest litigation moved by BJP Bihar president Sushil Kumar Modi and Janata Dal (United) leader Rajiv Ranjan Singh Lallan. The petition contended that Laloo Prasad was tampering with evidence and trying to change the prosecutor after the UPA government assumed power at the Centre.

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