The CBI court in Ranchi sentenced RJD chief Lalu Prasad to five years’ imprisonment in a 17-year-old fodder scam case, making him the second member of Parliament to be disqualified in the last three days.
The court also imposed a fine of Rs. 25 lakh on Lalu. In case of default in payment, the former Bihar CM will have to serve 6 months more in jail.
Lalu would appeal in the Jharkhand high court on October 17.
"We will appeal against the verdict on October 17," his counsel Chitaranjan Prasad Sinha told reporters in Ranchi.
In accordance with the Supreme Court’s July 10 ruling which removed immunity for convicted lawmakers, the former Bihar chief minister will effectively be out of the electoral arena for 11 years, a prospect that will hit the RJD hard in Bihar as well as nationally.
According to provisions of the Representation of the People Act, a convicted person cannot contest elections for six years beginning from the date of completion of sentence.
There could, however, still be hope for Lalu, who represents Saran constituency in the Lok Sabha, and the RJD because there is an escape route. The SC has said a convicted person can contest an election if his/her conviction and sentence — both are stayed by a superior court.
Read more: There is still hope for Lalu
The court also awarded four years’ imprisonment each to Jagannath Mishra, another former Bihar CM, and JD(U) MP Jagdish Sharma. Mishra was slapped with a penalty of Rs. 2 lakh, while Sharma has to pay up Rs. 5 lakh.
Former Bihar minister RK Rana, another high profile convict in the case, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. The court slapped a fine of Rs. 30 lakh on him.
Special CBI judge PK Singh, who had on Monday convicted Lalu and 44 others of fraudulent withdrawal of Rs. 37.70 crore from the Chaibasa treasury, handed down the punishment through videoconferencing.
The Chaibasa treasury case is just one of the many in the Rs. 950 crore animal husbandry department scam — commonly known as the fodder scam — in undivided Bihar (prior to Jharkhand’s formation).
The convicts are, at present, lodged in Ranchi’s Birsa Munda Central Jail.
Lalu’s conviction and sentencing is the second shake-up of India’s political system this week.
On Tuesday, senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Rasheed Masood was sentenced to four years in jail in a corruption case. Along with disqualification, he is effectively out of the electoral arena for 10 years.
Lalu’s last-ditch effort for leniency
Earlier in the day, Lalu’s lawyers pleaded with the court to give their client the minimum punishment of three years.
Representing Lalu, Surinder Singh, a senior lawyer of the Jabalpur court, told the court his client had turned 68 and was suffering from various old-age related diseases.
“Among other diseases, he is diabetic and also suffers from hypertension,” the defence lawyer pleaded.
The prosecution lawyers, on the contrary, demanded maximum punishment to the RJD chief, arguing that his crime was grave and against the state.
CBI lawyer BMP Singh said they demanded deterrent punishment for Lalu so that it becomes a lesson for others not to indulge in corrupt practices. “Corruption has pervaded all sections of our society. It is a rarity that corrupt people are caught and convicted. Hence, there should be no leniency to him.”
Pleading for leniency moments after his conviction on September 30, Lalu had told the judge: “I was the chief minister of Bihar for two consecutive terms and a Union railway minister. Please consider awarding lesser punishment to me.”
Out of the 45 people convicted, 34 including Lalu are in jail on the outskirts of Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi.
The court had released eight convicts on bail on Monday after sentencing them to three years’ imprisonment. The court has issued arrest warrants against three convicts who failed to appear before it.
Big blow to RJD
The RJD had hoped the government’s ordinance designed to protect convicted lawmakers would come to the party chief’s aid.
The government, however, withdrew the controversial ordinance on Wednesday, days after Congress vice-president trashed it as “complete nonsense” and one that should be “torn up and thrown away”.
What would worry the RJD is the possibility of the Congress — an ally — going with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United).
The Congress, which is seen to be increasingly warming up to the JD(U), had given a guarded response to Lalu’s conviction, while steering clear of questions on the future of its alliance with the RJD.
“It’s too early to say what impact it will have on alliance in Bihar and Jharkhand. We cannot say anything on what will happen about alliance,” Congress communication department chief Ajay Maken had told reporters hours after Lalu’s conviction four days ago.
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