The Supreme Court today pronounced its verdict on a plea by the CBI challenging the dropping of conspiracy charges against former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav by the Jharkhand High Court in one of the fodder scam cases.
Giving no relief to Lalu, the Supreme Court ordered the separate trial of each offense or four cases registered against the former Bihar CM.The Supreme Court allowed the plea by CBI opposing dropping of charges against Lalu Prasad Yadav by Jharkhand High Court in the fodder scam case.
The Fodder Scam was a corruption scandal that involved the embezzlement of about ₹9.4 billion (equivalent to ₹34 billion or US$520 million in 2016) from the government treasury of the eastern Indian state of Bihar.
Among those implicated in the theft and arrested were then Chief Minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, as well as former Chief Minister, Jagannath Mishra.The scandal led to the end of Lalu’s reign as Chief Minister.
The theft spanned for many years, and allegedly involved numerous Bihar state’s administrative and elected officials across multiple administrations of the Indian National Congress and the Janata Dal parties. The corruption scheme involved the fabrication of “vast herds of fictitious livestock” for which fodder, medicines and animal husbandry equipment was supposedly procured.
Although the scandal broke in 1996, the theft had been in progress, and increased in size, for over two decades. Besides the magnitude and duration of the theft, the scam was and continues to be covered in Indian media due to the extensive nexus between tenured bureaucrats, elected politicians and business people that it revealed, and as an example of the mafia raj that has penetrated several state-run economic sectors in the country.
In 2013, Lalu, who heads the Rashtriya Janata Dal, was named in six cases embedded in the fodder scam. He was convicted in 2013 in one of them and then asked that the others be dropped since he cannot be tried for the same offenses again. The Supreme Court has rejected that request and said he will be tried in all the cases.
It took more than a decade and a half for the fodder scam case to reach a verdict in the first case that saw him being sentenced to five years in jail; he is out on bail.
Lalu will face charges including criminal conspiracy and fraud in the fresh trial. The apex court bench comprising justices Amitava Roy and P.C. Ghose also directed the state to conclude trial within 9 months.
Over the weekend, the BJP demanded Mr Kumar take action against Lalu after a TV channel broadcast what it claimed were secretly taped conversations between him and gangster Mohammad Shahabuddin, a leader from his party, who is in jail.
The phone call was allegedly taped last year. The BJP says it confirms that Lalu was in touch with a jailed underworld don and offered to examine various complaints he made, including about a police officer whose performance he described as problematic.
“Nitish was fully aware of Lalu’s phone tapping and through this, he wants to weaken him so that he does not oppose his PM candidature in 2019,” senior Bihar BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said reacting to the Lalu-Shahabuddin audio tape controversy.
Recently, Lalu hinted at that RJD is unlikely to favour Nitish Kumar as prime ministerial candidate for taking on Narendra Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Just a few months ago, both Lalu and Tejashwi had lauded Nitish and claimed that he is a “PM material”.
The major political setback for the RJD chief is also a cause of embarrassment for the Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government which is in alliance with RJD as a partner. The two parties had joined hands against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the assembly elections of 2015 and the alliance had won 178 seats in the 243 member assembly.
Lalu, as he is popularly known, participates in the three-party coalition government in Bihar that is headed by Nitish Kumar, who is under increasing pressure to comment on various controversies engulfing Lalu and his two sons, who are both ministers in Bihar.
Lalu still enjoys huge popular support for championing backwards castes and in the last Bihar election in 2015, his party won more seats than any other, but agreed to honour an earlier agreement with Mr Kumar to serve as No 2 in the alliance. In recent weeks, his sons, Tejashwi and Tej Pratap, have been accused by the BJP of concealing vast real estate assets which were illicitly acquired, according to the opposition.