Fodder scam case: Supreme Court revives criminal conspiracy charge against Lalu Prasad
The Supreme Court revived on Monday criminal conspiracy charges against RJD chief Lalu Prasad in one of the five pending cases in the fodder scam, rejecting his plea that he cannot be prosecuted twice for the same offence.
The court ruling is seen as a big setback to the powerful regional satrap who was disqualified from Parliament and banned from contesting elections after he was convicted of corruption in 2013 in one of the biggest scams in Bihar. He was found guilty of fraudulent withdrawals worth Rs 37.70 crore from the Chaibasa treasury.
On the former Bihar chief minister’s plea, the Jharkhand high court had in 2015 quashed criminal conspiracy charges against Prasad in connection with alleged fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 84.53 lakh from Deogarh treasury, holding he had already been convicted for the offence and cannot be tried again.
An SC bench led by justice Arun Misra set aside the HC verdict.
“Though evidence of general conspiracy has been adduced in cases which have been concluded, it may be common to all the cases but at the same time offences are different at different places, by different accused persons.” It said each transaction was a separate case and could not be clubbed to have a joint trial.
The fodder scam rocked undivided Bihar and came to light in 1996. A CBI probe uncovered that the fraud was part of a racket to bleed more than Rs 900 crore from the exchequer by showing spends for fictitious medicines and fodder for cattle.
The ruling is likely to weaken his position in Bihar, where his Rashtriya Janata Dal is in an alliance with chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and his two sons are ministers.
While political fallout may not be immediate, the cases are likely to strain the alliance before the next Assembly elections in 2020.
The judgment will also have a bearing on four more fodder scam cases against Prasad. A petition by him to drop criminal conspiracy charges in one more case is pending before the HC.
The SC order came on an appeal against the HC verdict filed by the CBI, which was pulled up for its lethargic approach in the case. The agency had moved the court much after the limitation period to file an appeal was over.
“It is expected of it (CBI) to be more vigilant. It has failed to live up to its reputation. In the instant case, lethargy on its part is intolerable. If CBI fails to act timely, peoples’ faith will be shaken in its effectiveness,” the court said, asking the agency director to saddle the responsibility on the officer. The top boss cannot escape his responsibility, court said.
The SC verdict would also apply against former CM Jagannath Misra and retired bureaucrat Sajal Chakraborty who too were given relief by the HC. But, in the case of a doctor – also an accused in fodder scam – the HC had rejected his plea for a similar relief.
Taking note of this inconsistency, the SC chided the HC for giving conflicting findings. It ordered the trial court concerned to expedite the trial and conclude the same within nine months. Misra would face criminal conspiracy charges in four cases, while Chakraborty in two.
Pulling up CBI for its laxity, SC said it should have acted with more circumspection and ought to have followed the CBI manual. “In this case, we are surprised at the conduct of the CBI in such important matters how such delay could take place,” the court said, noting government agencies were routinely filing belated petitions in SC.
Monday’s ruling gives his rivals, particularly the BJP, ammunition to target Prasad again. He and his family have recently been under fire for allegedly acquiring a mall in Patna through front companies.