RANCHI: Former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad today suffered a major blow when a special CBI court convicted him in a 17-year-old fodder scam case of corruption that disqualifies him from Parliament and will keep him out of electoral arena for at least six years.
Less than a fortnight ago, former Union Health Minister and sitting Rajya Sabha member Rasheed Masood was convicted in a corruption case and faces disqualification.
Another 43 accused, including former Bihar Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra, five politicians and four IAS officers, were also convicted by the court of Pravas Kumar Singh for fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 37.7 crore from Chaibasa treasury.
The court fixed October three for pronouncement of sentence against Yadav, Mishra and others.
While BJP and JD (U), rivals of RJD in Bihar, welcomed the judgment, its ally Congress merely said the law has taken its course. JD (U) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a one time associate of Lalu, declined to comment on the judgment.
The RJD said they would challenge the judgment while party leaders said they would discuss the strategy to steer the party in the absence of Prasad.
Accompanied by his son Tejaswi to the court, 65-year-old Prasad declined to react to the judgment. He appeared calm while his car sped away to the Birsa Munda Central Jail located on the outskirts of Ranchi straight from the court.
The court sentenced IAS officer K Arumugam, former Bihar AHD and Labor Minister Vidya Sagar Nishad and former MLA Dhruv Bhagat and five fodder suppliers for up to three years.
Earlier, Prasad, who arrived in the court by a white Ambassador car, appeared relaxed and waved to his party supporters. He sat in the second row in the court room as the judge began reading out the judgment against him. The RJD chief, elected from Saran in Bihar and Sharma face immediate disqualification as Lok Sabha members under a recent Supreme Court order that an MP or MLA would stand disqualified immediately if convicted by a court for crimes with punishment of two years or more and under some other laws even without jail sentence.
The July judgment of the Supreme Court struck down a provision in the electoral law that provided protection to sitting MPs and MLAs by allowing them to continue in their posts if they appeal against a lower court conviction and secure a stay of the order.
Lalu would have got protection from disqualification if the ordinance promulgated by the Centre was cleared by President Pranab Mukherjee but he is said to have some reservations and raised questions over it.
Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi compounded problems by attacking the ordinance and calling for its withdrawal, virtually sealing its fate.
RJD Spokesperson Manoj Jha said they would challenge the order in a higher court after the sentence is known.
All the 45 convicted persons were found guilty under IPC sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 420 (cheating), 467 (forgery of a valuable security/will or authority to make or transfer any valuable security/receive any money), 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating), 477A (fraudulently destroying or defacing, or attempting to destroy or deface, or secreting a will).
They were also found guilty under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
The court had on September 17 set today’s date to pass orders in the case.. Prasad had begun arguments on September 9 and ended it on September 17 after the Supreme Court turned down his request to change the current special court to another court after he apprehended political conspiracy.
Following the Animal Husbandry scam, popularly known as the Fodder Scam, Prasad had to resign as chief minister of Bihar.
After installing his wife Rabri Devi as the chief minister, Yadav had surrendered before a court in Patna on July 31, 1997.
Later, he came to Ranchi following a court order that Ranchi had the jurisdiction of the case. The Becon Guest House was converted to a camp jail in Ranchi before he was shifted to the old Birsa Munda Jail at Circular road here.
After Jharkhand’s bifurcation on November 15, 2000, the litigations were brought before the Supreme Court whether the Patna High Court had the jurisdiction on the cases in this part of the undivided Bihar and trial was stayed till December 2000 to December 2001.
The SC had said in November, 2001 that trial would be conducted by special courts in Ranchi.
Trial in Ranchi began in March, 2002 by seven special courts. The case was posted for defense of Prasad from May 15 and Prasad’s counsel examined 29 witnesses in his defense.
But when the defense continued to skip dates, the court fixed July 15 to deliver the judgment and asked the accused to complete arguments by July 1.
Subsequently, Prasad moved the Supreme Court pleading shifting of his case from the court of Pravas Kumar Singh on the ground of political conspiracy, which the apex court struck down, paving the way for the first judgment against Prasad.-PTI