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Sita’s exile ends in hospital

- First bahu surrenders, sent from Birsa jail to RIMS

Ranchi, Feb. 25: Jharkhand’s First Family bahu Sita Soren, accused of accepting a Rs 1.5 crore bribe in exchange for her vote in the 2012 Rajya Sabha polls, surrendered in a CBI court this morning, went to Birsa jail in the afternoon and ended her day at the ICU of Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) complaining of chest pain.

Wearing a white, purple-bordered sari, pallu modestly draped over her head and a black shawl, the JMM MLA — on a catch-me-if-you-can mode since August last year, when the CBI issued a non-bailable warrant against her — arrived at civil court near Kutchery Chowk around 10.15am in an off-white SUV.

With her were her private aide Pankaj Prasoon Tiwari, her lawyer Vishwajeet Mukherjee and some supporters.

Inside the courtroom, she sat on a bench at the back around 10.30am. Judge R.K. Choudhary assumed his chair around 11am and asked Sita her name, address and case.

Sita, nervously adjusting her pallu or wiping her forehead with a kerchief, either nodded or whispered her replies. The entire process took around 15 minutes.

“She did not apply for bail. The court forwarded her to judicial custody till March 1 when the matter would be heard in court,” said CBI lawyer Sanjeev Kumar Yadav.

In the CBI chargesheet, Sita is accused of receiving Rs 1.5 crore from R.K. Agrawal, a high-profile Jamshedpur industrialist, to cast her vote in his favour in the Rajya Sabha election for two seats held on March 30, 2012.

Around 12.45pm, Sita reached Birsa Munda Central Jail where Agrawal, the co-accused of the case, has been lodged since May last year.

A quiet Sita, who “looked lost”, according to a jail official, soon complained of chest pain.

Jail sources received a court letter around 2pm for her full medical examination. In the afternoon, jail superintendent D.K. Pradhan said she was yet to be allotted her cell.

“Our jail doctor said she was suffering from chest pain. So, I am going to write to Ranchi SSP Bhimsen Tuti asking for a guard so that we can send her to RIMS, perhaps tomorrow, if need be,” said Pradhan in the afternoon.

The exigency came sooner than perhaps Pradhan had expected. By 7pm, Sita was in RIMS.

“We sent a fax to SSP office in the evening and after getting a reply, sent her to RIMS in police custody some 10 minutes ago,” said Pradhan around 7.15pm.

“She is in the ICU now,” RIMS director Tulsi Mahto told The Telegraph in the evening. Refraining from comments on the intensity of her chest pains, he said he wasn’t looking after her. “A medical team examining her will decide on the future course of action.”

Sita is only following a time-honoured tradition of VIP Birsa Munda Central Jail inmates falling ill and going to RIMS, former chief minister Madhu Koda and his cabinet colleagues Anosh Ekka, Harinarayan Singh, Kamlesh Singh, Bhanu Pratap Shahi and Congress leader Sawna Lakra to name some.

Its most famous VIP inmate yet, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, jailed in a fodder scam case, was a notable exception.

On the two other accused in the case, Sita’s father B.N. Manjhi and private aide Rajendra Mandal, CBI lawyer Yadav said the legal process to attach their property had started.

Sita exhausted all possible legal recourses to avoid arrest since months but a JMM source close to the Soren family claimed she surrendered today following “family advice”.

Ab koi chara nahi tha. Aise bhagne se koi fayada nahi hai aur parivar ki jo badnami hui so alag. Lekin woh bahut der se is baat ko samjhi (She had no other way. Nothing good could come out of her being on the run, to say nothing of her family’s disgrace. She understood this very late),” the JMM leader and Soren family confidant said.

In the 2012 Rajya Sabha polls, besides Agrawal, Calcutta-based businessman Pawan Dhoot had also contested as an Independents. Congress had fielded Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu, whereas Sanjeev Kumar and Praveen Singh contested as JMM and JVM candidates, respectively.

The election was countermanded when income tax department and Ranchi police seized Rs 2.15 crore in cash from an SUV belonging to Agrawal’s close relative on Ranchi’s outskirts hours before voting on March 30, 2012. On the same day, a case was lodged against Agrawal at Namkum thana for allegedly influencing the polls.

On April 5, 2012, a division bench of Chief Justice Prakash Tatia and Justice Aparesh Kumar Singh of Jharkhand High Court asked Election Commission to hand the case to the CBI. The CBI anti-corruption branch lodged FIR, RC 2(S)/12, on April 19, 2012 under sections of IPC 120 B 171 E.

On April 11, 2013, the CBI added sections 13(2) and 13(1)(D) of Prevention of Corruption Act against Sita and Agrawal, which deal with bribes involving a public servant in exchange for favours. The case became stronger from then.

Sita, the widow of Durga Soren, follows in the footsteps of her father-in-law and JMM boss Shibu Soren who, along with three party MPs, was charged with getting Rs 2.8 crore as kickbacks in the 1990s for rescuing then Prime Minister Narsimha Rao from a no-confidence motion. The Supreme Court exonerated them on a technicality.

The person charged with buying Sita’s vote is a much lesser mortal. It remains to be seen what becomes of the bahu.