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Bail, in line with co-convicts

New Delhi/Ranchi, Dec. 13: Lalu Prasad today received bail from the Supreme Court, which noted that “similarly placed” co-convicts in the fodder scam had received the relief.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal leader is unlikely to be freed before Monday from the Jharkhand jail where he has spent 74 days since his conviction on September 30, official sources in Ranchi said.

Defence counsel Ram Jethmalani had today told the bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi that 37 of the 44 other fodder scam convicts were already on bail, so his client should not be denied the relief.

Additional solicitor-general P.P. Malhotra, who appeared for the CBI, told the court the agency had no objection to bail being granted to Lalu Prasad, sentenced to five years in jail.

“Out of five years, the petitioner has served one year in jail. Similarly placed persons who have been convicted for five years have also been granted bail,” Justice Sathasivam said while dictating the order.

The bench left the terms and conditions for Lalu Prasad’s bail to the CBI court in Ranchi that had convicted him. Sources said the court would be closed tomorrow because it’s the second Saturday of the month.

Lalu Prasad was “calm and composed” after receiving the news at the Birsa Munda Central Jail in Ranchi, a prison source said. “As one would expect from a seasoned politician, it was not easy to read his mind.”

The former Bihar chief minister “congratulated all inside the jail and said it was everyone’s blessings that had led to his bail”, the prison source added.

BJP member of Parliament Shatrughan Sinha today visited Lalu Prasad’s wife and former Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi in Patna, PTI reported.

“I have come here to share her family’s jubilation on account of my strong relations with them,” Sinha was quoted as saying.

Lalu Prasad had been convicted with 44 others in connection with embezzlement from the treasury at Chaibasa (now in Jharkhand) in 1996 when he was chief minister of undivided Bihar.

His conviction and five- year sentence has led to the former railway minister losing his membership of Parliament.

In his bail application, Lalu Prasad had pleaded that he had spent 10 months in jail as an accused and over two months as a convict. He cited his past status as chief minister, railway minister and MP and his current responsibilities as leader of a political party to argue he was not likely to turn fugitive if freed.

He had argued that the trial court and Jharkhand High Court had rejected his bail petitions on erroneous grounds while granting the relief to co-accused such as former animal husbandry minister Vidyasagar Nishad.

“When granted bail earlier, (the) petitioner had fully cooperated with the investigation during the trial and appeared before the court regularly,” the petition said.

Jharkhand minister Annapurna Devi, a Rashtriya Janata Dal member, visited the jail and distributed 50kg of sweets among staff and inmates. Scores of party supporters gathered outside, smeared one another with colour and handed out laddoos, pethas and apples.