Sentencing on October 3; they may face 3 to 7 years in jail; seven get provisional bail

A special CBI court in Ranchi pronounced all 45 accused, including Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader and Member of Parliament Lalu Prasad, guilty in the Chaibasa treasury case of the Rs. 950-crore fodder scam.

The Chaibasa treasury case that relates to the withdrawal of Rs. 37 crore is one of six fodder scam cases in which Mr. Prasad is an accused and the first in which a verdict has been pronounced. Mr. Prasad may now face an imprisonment of minimum three and maximum seven years when the sentence is announced on October 3.

At 11 a.m. on Monday, when the CBI judge Pravas Kumar Singh pronounced all 45 accused guilty, 34 of the accused including Mr. Prasad and former Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra were sent to Hotwar jail. Mr. Mishra was later admitted in the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences after he complained of some health problems when he was lodged at the Birsa Munda Central Jail.

Besides Mr. Mishra, four of the accused are in hospital undergoing treatment. Seven other accused including former animal husbandry minister Vidya Sagar Nishad, former MLA Dhruv Bhagat, two IAS officers and three suppliers, who are expected to be sentenced to less than three years, got provisional bail on Monday afternoon.

Former animal husbandry minister Vidya Sagar Nishad was one of the first to arrive in court today followed by Jagannath Mishra. Mr. Prasad who had arrived in Ranchi on Sunday afternoon from Patna declined to comment. On Monday morning too, he did not make any comment before entering the courtroom. More than 200 RJD supporters and leaders including RJD MPs Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Prabhunath Singh, who had arrived from Patna, waited at the court for the verdict. “The timing of the verdict is unfortunate. Since the court will remain closed from October 5 to 25, we will not even be able to appeal for bail for our leader Mr. Prasad,” said an RJD general secretary while waiting at the court.

Earlier, during the arguments, the defence lawyers had argued that the accused had not registered a case against the irregularities as the government had no knowledge about them. The CBI counsel B. M. P. Singh had pointed out that the State government had failed to register a case till 1996 even after the then Deputy Accountant General had written to the government in 1990 pointing out irregularities in transportation and procurement processes in the animal husbandry department. The CBI counsel had argued that the government under Mr. Prasad resorted to forming enquiry committees in the Legislative Assembly instead of an investigation by the police till the Patna High Court ordered a CBI enquiry in 1996.

Of 64 cases in the 1996-fodder scam, 53 were litigated in Ranchi and trials have been completed in 45 cases so far. “The fraudulent withdrawal of funds had begun in 1989. This case is the first one which was registered in March 1996. The trial had begun in Ranchi in February 2002 after the case was shifted here after Jharkhand was created. In all 70 witnesses from Bihar have been examined and 280 from Jharkhand. We submitted 60,000 documents. There is no street in Ranchi where we have not attached property bought from funds from the fodder scam,” said a senior official who is part of the investigation team.

Meanwhile, the prosecution is expected to finish examining witnesses by November in another case related to the fraudulent withdrawal of Rs. 96 lakh from Deogarh treasury.

Mixed reactions

Rahi Gaikwad reports from Patna:

The former Deputy Chief Minister, Sushil Kumar Modi, who was the main party in a public interest litigation petition filed in the Patna High Court in 1996 to seek a CBI probe into the scam, welcomed the verdict. He said: “Lalu got what he deserved. Lalu had to resign as Chief Minister and he was arrested. Rabri was thrust upon Bihar as Chief Minister. After the scam was exposed, corruption at the top level in the State was stopped.”

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar did not make any comments. The Lok Janshakti Party, an ally of the RJD, welcomed the verdict, but said Mr. Prasad’s conviction would not affect the ties between the parties.