The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its verdict on appeals filed by Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, his wife Rabri Devi and the CBI, challenging a Patna High Court order that permitted the Bihar government to prefer an appeal against a trial court's verdict acquitting them in the disproportionate assets case, fallout of the fodder scam.
Special CBI judge Muni Lal Paswan, on December 18, 2006, acquitted Mr. Prasad and his wife in the corruption case wherein it was alleged that they amassed assets worth Rs. 46 lakh beyond their known sources of income, when Mr. Prasad was the Chief Minister between 1990 and 1997.
Since the CBI did not file an appeal in the High Court, the State government preferred an appeal against the trial court's verdict. The High Court, by an interim order on September 20, 2007, held that the Bihar's appeal was maintainable. The present appeals by Mr. Prasad and others are directed against this order.
The former Union Law Minister and senior counsel, Ram Jethmalani, appearing for Mr. Prasad and his wife, assailed the High Court order. He contended that the State government was not competent to file an appeal against the trial court's order as it was the exclusive jurisdiction of the Central government with respect to a matter dealt with by the CBI. He argued that no State government could impede, oppose or frustrate the Central government's executive decision under section 378 of the Criminal Procedure Code not to file an appeal against the order of acquittal.
On behalf of the CBI, senior counsel Mariarputham submitted that the cases investigated by the agency prohibited the States from having any role in them. The States would not have any jurisdiction once the cases were transferred to the CBI, as otherwise it would mean that they had jurisdiction over the CBI.
Senior counsel L. Nageswara Rao, appearing for the Bihar government, submitted that the State would not lose control over the case as the jurisdiction of the State to file an appeal was not taken away. Since the offences were committed in Bihar, it was entitled to prefer an appeal, if the CBI did not prefer an appeal against the acquittal of the accused. When Justice Lodha pointed out that the jurisdiction of the State was excluded once the case was investigated by the CBI, Mr. Rao said it was an exception, but the State would continue to have control over the case if the CBI failed to prefer an appeal, as both the CBI and the State had concurrent powers on right of appeal.