Fodder soup heating up for Lalu

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LALU12New Delhi: Former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav faced a setback on Monday in the multi-crore fodder scam case, when the Jharkhand High Court dismissed his plea to change the judge presiding over a court where he is being tried.

Yadav’s lawyer had petitioned to transfer the 17-year-old case to “a more competent court” and stated that his client feared a biased outcome of the trial considering that the special judge of the CBI court, Pravas Kumar Singh, was related by marriage to incumbent education minister PK Shahi. Shahi is from the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), which is a rival party of the Lalu Prasad Yadav led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Yadav’s lawyer had also filed a petition before the HC asking it to recall a prosecution witness, former Ranchi rural SP Bimlendu Prasad Sinha, calling him a material witness in the fodder scam case. Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani appeared on behalf of Yadav, while Mokhtar Khan, Additional Solicitor General of India represented the CBI.

However, a bench of the Jharkhand HC dismissed both petitions stating that there was no merit in either petition and said that they didn’t want to interfere in an old matter which was pending since 1996.

The matter pertains to a 17-year-old case in which Yadav is one of 46 accused. He was charged with providing “umbrella protection to the scamsters” in the Rs 950-crore worth scam for embezzlement to the tune of Rs 37 crore from the Chaibasa (now West Singhbhum) treasury. The scam involved false procurement of fodder for a huge number of fictitious cattle, through a nexus of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.

Accusations of involvement in the scam cost Lalu his position as chief minister and he had to replace himself with his wife Rabri Devi. A co-accused is former Bihar CM Jagannath Mishra, who was expelled from the Congress party after his possible involvement was discovered.

There were a total of 61 cases filed originally, of which 44 had been disposed of. Yadav is an accused in six cases, of which five are being heard by the court of the special judge, CBI. One of the five cases in the CBI court at Ranchi, RC 20(A)/96, is in its final stages and the court is hearing final arguments from either side and a judgment is expected on 15 July. In the other four, the prosecution is examining its witnesses.

There are 42 accused in the fodder scam who are still alive, while 4 died during the trial. The mid-July hearing will come at a crucial time for Lalu Prasad Yadav and the RJD. Recently, its rival party JD-U broke off from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and both will be fighting hard for the 40 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar. A conviction could put a serious dent on the chances of Yadav.

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