| RJD chief Lalu Prasad and BJP vice-president Vinay Katiyar outside Parliament. Picture by Prem Singh
Aug. 13: The Supreme Court today rejected the plea of RJD chief Lalu Prasad to transfer the special CBI judge hearing the fodder scam case (RC-20A/96) against him in Jharkhand, casting a shadow on his future in politics.
The bench headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam dismissed the allegation of Lalu that the trial judge, P.K. Singh, was biased because he was a relative of education minister P.K. Shahi — a political rival of the RJD chief. Questioning his move to raise the issue at the fag end of the trial, it asked the CBI court to pronounce the verdict as soon as possible.
The apex court also set a time frame for concluding the proceedings, granting five days’ time to the CBI and 15 days to the accused persons to wrap up their final arguments in the case. The bench, also comprising Justice Ranjana Desai and Justice Ranjan Gogoi, said it was not inclined to entertain the allegations levelled against the judge and vacated its stay on the trial court proceedings.
The legal experts had begun conjecturing a break in Lalu’s career as a lawmaker when the CBI-designated court in Ranchi fixed the date of delivering judgment in the case on July 15 and subsequently the Jharkhand High Court rejected his plea to change the judge on the grounds of the latter’s relationship with Shahi.
Lalu got a breather when the Supreme Court admitted his petition, staying the proceedings in the trial court. But the situation is back to square one now with the apex court directing the same judge to conclude the argument and dispose of the case.
On if Lalu had run out of options with the Supreme Court dismissing his petition, senior Patna High Court lawyer Y.B. Giri said: “Practically, he has. But technically, he is entitled to file a revision petition and a curative petition against the Supreme Court’s order. But in rarest of the rare cases the revision petition or curative petitions are entertained by the Supreme Court.”
The legal experts said the trial court, after officially receiving the Supreme Court’s order, would fix fresh dates for hearing the arguments on behalf of Lalu and the CBI. It will announce the date of the verdict after the conclusion of the arguments, an expert said.
In the event of his conviction in the case for more than two years, Lalu would immediately cease to be an MP in the light of the recent SC order, against which the Centre has filed a review petition with the five-member Constitution bench. Besides, he and the JD(U) MP, Jagdish Sharma, a co-accused in the fodder scam case (RC-20A/96) would not be able to contest the 2014 polls in the event of their conviction for over two years.
Political observers believe that the impending verdict in the 17-year-old case involving fraudulent withdrawal of over Rs 37 crore from the Chaibasa treasury is staring at the RJD boss at the “worst time”. Bereft of power for quite sometime, the RJD chief was believed to be on a comeback trail.
He organised a successful Parivartan Rally here on May 15. His party’s Prabhunath Singh registered a massive victory against the JD(U)’s Shahi in the Maharajganj Lok Sabha bypoll on June 5, boosting his prospects. Besides, Lalu sniffed an opportunity for his party’s revival after the JD(U) and the BJP snapped ties.
“It is natural for us to see an opportunity in the split of the JD(U)-BJP alliance. We have our vote share consistently growing, which became evident during the bypolls in Dauraunda and Kalyanpur. Though we lost, our vote share grew and eventually we won the Maharajganj bypoll, defeating the JD(U) in all the six Assembly segments of the Lok Sabha seat,” the RJD legislature party leader, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, said.
The apex court’s order today, however, seems to have poured cold water on the RJD’s optimism for now. A pall of gloom descended on Lalu-Rabri’s 10 Circular Road home that remains abuzz with workers even in the RJD boss’s absence. A handful of party cadres, visibly depressed, were spotted this evening sitting at the residence of the former ruling couple.
change-judge plea rejected
June 20: CBI special judge, Ranchi, P.K. Singh fixes July 15 as date of
delivering judgment in
the fodder scam case
June 24: Lalu Prasad files petition in Jharkhand High Court seeking transfer of trial judge P.K. Singh on the ground that Singh was related to Bihar education minister P.K. Shahi. Lalu feared biased order
July 1: Jharkhand
High Court dismisses Lalu’s petition
August 7: Supreme Court hears petition filed by Lalu against the Jharkhand High Court order &
August 13: Supreme Court dismisses Lalu’s plea for transfer of trial judge & orders him to
dispose of the case fast