|Lalu Prasad on his way to the court from the Railway Guest House in Ranchi on Monday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Ranchi, Sept. 30: The irrepressible RJD chief Lalu Prasad faced the toughest challenge in his four-decades-long political career today when a special CBI court convicted him with 44 others in the 17-year-old fodder scam, putting a question mark on the party’s leadership in the run-up to next year’s Lok Sabha polls.
Lalu, as then Bihar chief minister who also held the finance portfolio, has been found guilty of getting money unlawfully, criminal breach of trust by a public servant, forgery, cheating and concealment of evidence, among others, by the CBI court of Prabas Kumar Singh.
He stands to be jailed anywhere between three and seven years, but the sentence will be awarded on October 3 via video-conferencing.
Besides Lalu, the court also found guilty former Congress strongman and Bihar chief minister Jagannath Mishra, the leader of the Opposition when the scam broke out and four other politicians and four IAS officers.
As the judge pronounced his verdict in the jam-packed courtroom, Lalu, who was sitting on a plastic chair, could not hide his startled response: “Yeh kya ho gaya ji! Dekho hakim kya saja tajbij karte hain (What is this! Let’s see what penalty the judge awards).”
The CBI court convicted him under various IPC sections and Prevention of Corruption Act provisions for knowing about and actively promoting the mass-scale theft of public money by the animal husbandry department, as well as shielding those involved.
|Lalu Prasad arrives at Birsa Munda Central Jail in Hotwar, Ranchi, to be taken into custody. (PTI)
The case RC 20A/96 pertains to the illegal withdrawal of Rs 37.7 crore from the Chaibasa treasury in West Singhbhum during the 1990s by animal husbandry department officials, fully supported by suppliers and politicians.
Lalu is facing four other cases in the fodder scam that are in various stages of hearing.
The judgment in today’s case ran into 475 pages and was divided in seven parts.
Lalu requested the judge to announce the punishment today or tomorrow so that he could move Jharkhand High Court for an appeal, but in vain.
Referring to himself as a dedicated public servant, a two-time chief minister of Bihar and a former Union railway minister, Lalu also asked the judge to take a lenient view.
“Judiciary me mujhe vishwas hai. Humlog apko bhagwan mante hain. Aaj ya kal saja suna dete ap dekh lete toh accha tha. Hajoor yeh mera request hai dekh lete, dekhiye aage Durga Puja bhi hai (I have faith in judiciary, we treat you like God. It would be good if you please announce the quantum of punishment today or tomorrow. Lordship, this is my request as Durga Puja is also approaching)," Lalu said.
The judge kept mum.
Others who were convicted included former chairmen of public accounts committee (PAC) Jagdish Sharma and Dhruv Bhagat, former animal husbandry department minister Vidyasagar Nishad and IAS officers Beck Julius, Mahesh Prasad, K. Arumugam and Phulchand Singh, several animal husbandry officers and fodder suppliers.
Forty-two of the 45 accused were present when judgment was pronounced. Three had sought exemption on medical grounds.
After the judgment, 34 were sent to Birsa Munda Central Jail in Ranchi, while eight got interim bail from the court around 3pm.
One of Lalu’s four lawyers, who did not want to be named, said: “He is innocent in this case because it was he who ordered the first probe of the scam. We will challenge verdict before Jharkhand High Court. But I fear Laluji will have to remain in jail at least for 15 days. By the time CBI court will pronounce sentence against him, we will hardly have time left to file a petition as the high court will closed from October 5 till Dussehra.”
As Lalu’s son Tejaswi — who may turn out to be the political heir as well — and supporters came out stony-faced after the verdict to escort him to the waiting car to take him to Birsa Munda central jail, CBI deputy superintendent of police A.K. Jha, also the investigating officer in this specific case, told The Telegraph that he felt “encouraged and emboldened”.
“Our probe has reached a logical conclusion. I am satisfied,” he said.
All the 45 accused have been found guilty of the following charges, which carry jail terms ranging from six months to
IPC Section 120B
Section 420 (cheating)
Section 467 (forgery
of a valuable security/will or authority to make or
transfer any valuable
security/receive any money)
Section 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating)
or defacing, or attempting to destroy or deface, or
secreting a will)
Corruption Act, 1988