Ranchi, Sept. 30: Lalu Prasad had been the picture of calmness as he waved to supporters and stepped into the packed courtroom to await a verdict that could face him with the toughest challenge of his four-decade-old political career.
But as CBI judge Prabas Kumar Singh pronounced him guilty in a 17-year-old fodder scam case along with 44 others, the mask of unflappability slipped for a moment.
|Lalu Prasad on his way to the court from the Railway Guest House in Ranchi on Monday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
“Yeee kya ho gaya ji (Oh, what’s happened)?” he cried out, stunned, from his plastic chair in the second row. But the 65-year-old Rashtriya Janata Dal chief quickly regained his famous poise.
“Dekho hakim kya saja tajbij karte hain (Let’s see what punishment the judge awards),” he said before falling silent.
The former chief minister and one-time railway minister could be jailed for three to seven years, legal experts said, when the sentence is awarded on October 3.
For now, he’s likely to spend “at least the next 15 days” at Ranchi’s Birsa Munda Central Jail before he can hope for bail on appeal, one of his lawyers said asking not to be named.
“By the time the CBI court pronounces the sentence, we’ll hardly have time to file a petition as Jharkhand High Court will remain closed for Durga Puja from October 5 till Dussehra,” he said.
Judge Singh today handed out shorter sentences to some of the convicts while saying that those facing jail terms of three years or longer must wait till Thursday. They will watch the sentencing from jail via video-conferencing.
|Lalu Prasad arrives at
Birsa Munda Central Jail
in Ranchi to be
taken into custody. (PTI)
Lalu Prasad asked the judge to take a lenient view and described himself as a dedicated public servant. He pleaded for the sentencing to be advanced so he would have time to move an appeal before the high court closed for Durga Puja.
“I have faith in the judiciary. We consider you God. It would be good if you announce the punishment today or tomorrow. Your Honour, this is a request… Durga Puja is approaching,” he said.
The judge kept mum.
As son Tejaswi and party supporters emerged from the courtroom stony-faced to escort Lalu Prasad to the car waiting to take him to jail, the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader declined to react to the judgment. He appeared calm.
CBI deputy superintendent A.K. Jha, the investigating officer, told The Telegraph he felt “encouraged and emboldened”.
“Our probe has reached a logical conclusion. I am satisfied,” he said.
The case relates to the illegal withdrawal of Rs 37.70 crore from the Chaibasa treasury in undivided Bihar in the ’90s by animal husbandry department officials with the support of politicians and fodder suppliers.
Lalu Prasad, who was then chief minister and held the finance portfolio, knew about and promoted the mass-scale theft of public money and shielded those involved, the 475-page judgment said. He faces several other cases in the fodder scam.
While rivals BJP and Janata Dal (United) welcomed the judgment, ally Congress merely said the law had taken its course. Bihar chief minister and one-time associate Nitish Kumar declined to comment on the judgment.
The other 44
The 44 other convicts include another former Bihar chief minister, Jagannath Mishra of the Congress, who was leader of the Opposition during the scam.
One of those sentenced today, former animal husbandry minister Vidyasagar Nishad, compared himself to Raja Harishchandra — a mythological king known for his moral integrity —and claimed he had been framed.
Also convicted was sitting Dal (United) MP Jagadish Sharma.
Among the rest were two former chairperson of the public accounts committee, Jagdish Sharma and Dhruv Bhagat; IAS officers K. Arumugam and Phulchand Singh; and several animal husbandry officials and fodder suppliers.
All the 45 accused have been found guilty of
the following charges, which carry jail terms ranging from six months to seven years
Prevention of Corruption Act
- Section 13(2): Public servant
committing criminal misconduct
- Section 13(1)(C): Dishonest/fraudulent misappropriation of public money by a public servant
- Section 13(1)(D): By corrupt or illegal means, obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or
- Section 120B: Criminal
- 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
- Section 477A: Fraudulently destroying or defacing, or
attempting to destroy or
deface, or secreting a will
- Section 201: Concealing
evidence, or shielding offender