New Delhi, Aug. 13: The Supreme Court today dismissed RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s plea to replace the fodder scam judge, saying it couldn’t be “presumed” he would be biased merely because he was related to a leader of Bihar’s ruling Janata Dal (United).
The judgment comes at a time the court recently barred convicted persons and also those in custody from contesting elections.
The court had also ruled that convicted MPs and MLAs couldn’t continue in office by filing an appeal within three months, prompting the Centre to seek a review yesterday.
Lalu Prasad, who is an MP, will now have to wait for special CBI judge P.K. Singh’s verdict. If convicted, the former Bihar chief minister could be disqualified from contesting for six years under the Representation of People Act.
In his plea, Lalu Prasad had said the judge’s sister, Minu Devi, was married to a cousin of P.K. Shahi, a minister in the JD(U) cabinet led by Nitish Kumar.
Nitish had even been photographed with the judge’s sister, Lalu Prasad’s plea said, arguing that this was proof of the judge’s proximity to the JD(U) top brass.
But the bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjana Prakash Desai and Ranjan Gogoi said that just because a distant relative of the judge had been seen in the company of the chief minister, it couldn’t be concluded that the judge would be biased against Lalu.
Merely because some relation of the judge was photographed near the chief minister, “it cannot be presumed that the presiding judge would conclude against the appellant”, Chief Justice Sathasivam, writing the judgment for the bench, said.
The court said the procedure adopted by the special judge couldn’t be faulted with “except (on) one aspect”, that the judge had compelled the parties involved in the case to file written arguments by a certain date — July 1, 2013 — and announced when the judgment would be pronounced (July 15). Courts never announce the judgment date before concluding arguments.
Such an abrupt notice was “not in consonance” with the Criminal Procedure Code, particularly when the case being tried has been pending since 1997, the bench said. But except this, “the conduct of the judge cannot be faulted with”.
The bench granted 20 more days for completion of arguments and directed the special judge to pronounce his verdict “as early as possible”.
The court also said the same judge has been hearing trial proceedings from November 2011 and Lalu Prasad could have raised his objections then, not on the eve of the pronouncement of the judgment.
The RJD leader had approached Jharkhand High Court before moving the apex court in the second week of July.