The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sweet loss for Laloo

Patna, June 21: Laloo Prasad Yadav today lost a key legal battle but only after he was assured of a “technical” victory.

A full bench of Patna High Court unanimously dismissed the five-year-old petition of Laloo Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi that challenged the legal validity of their trial in a disproportionate assets case.

Since the Supreme Court had earlier ruled that the trial court should not pronounce its verdict till the high court decides on the petition, today’s order, theoretically, paved the way for a speedy judgment.

But a fortnight earlier, on June 4, the high court had promoted and transferred the trial judge, Yogendra Prasad. The special judge of the CBI court had recorded the evidence in the case and heard the arguments. He was thus in a vantage position to pronounce the verdict. But following his transfer as the principal judge of the family court, there is nobody to give the verdict.

The post of the trial judge has not been filled up. As and when a judge is posted, he will have to hear the arguments all over again and study the evidence and material on record before pronouncing the verdict.

This is a process, said high court advocate P.K. Shahi, that could take years. “If the trial judge had not been shifted out”, he said, “we could have expected the verdict within a month.”

If convicted in the case, Laloo Prasad could have found his political career in jeopardy. His opponents fear that the effort of the defence team now will be to stall a verdict till the polls to the Bihar Assembly.

Shahi had filed a petition in the Supreme Court in November last year, alleging that Laloo Prasad was misusing his official position to subvert the trial. The petition had also expressed apprehension that the trial judge could be shifted.

Justice S.N. Variava of the Supreme Court, while hearing the case on March 15, had caused a sensation when he declared that “someone from the high court... indirectly wanted to know whether the trial judge can be changed”. Two days later, the judge said the person had clarified that it was an “academic enquiry”.

The high court, Shahi said today, could have asked Yogendra Prasad to hold dual charge and conclude the hearing in the disproportionate assets case. “Prasad in any case was in the rank of an additional district judge and has now been promoted as a district judge. The powers of the two are virtually the same.”

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