What is it?
The ₹950 crore fodder scam has been all about excess and fraudulent withdrawal of government money allocated to the Animal Husbandry Department (AHD) of various districts in undivided Bihar. The scam was meticulously executed with politicians, officials, transporters and suppliers of the Department in cahoots so much so that even cows, buffaloes and pigs were shown in bills as being transported on numbers allotted to scooters and mopeds. Most of the fake bills, however, pertained to the supply of fodder and medicines to the Department for animals. Hence, it is infamously known as the “fodder scam.”
How did it come about?
It is said the scam had been going on since the 1970s but it came to light in 1992-93 when the then AHD Minister Ramjivan Singh in the Lalu Prasad Yadav Cabinet raised the issue in the Assembly and recommended a CBI inquiry. But the government, headed by Mr. Prasad, who also held the Finance portfolio, looked the other way. Later, in January 1996, the then Finance Commissioner V.S. Dubey directed the then Deputy Commissioner of Chaibasa (now in Jharkhand), Amit Khare, to investigate the excess and fraudulent withdrawal from the district treasury, and at the same time, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition was filed by some Opposition party leaders in the Patna High Court demanding a CBI probe. In March 1996, the Patna High Court directed the CBI to probe the scam and a year later, in 1997, the CBI filed its first FIR in the Chaibasa treasury case which, eventually, unfolded the multi-crore fodder scam to haunt its alleged chief conspirator Mr. Prasad and others. In July 1997, Mr. Prasad stepped down and anointed his wife Rabri Devi as Bihar’s Chief Minister before surrendering to a CBI court and going to jail for the first time in the fodder scam cases. On December 23, 2017, he was convicted in another fodder scam case and sent to jail in Ranchi for the seventh time.
Why does it matter?
For Lalu Prasad, 69, a stint at the Birsa Munda Jail in Ranchi will put a lot at stake. At the personal level, it will be a challenging time as he has not been keeping well for some time. Also, other members of the family have been named as accused in different corruption cases, and investigating agencies like the Income Tax Department, the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI have been quizzing them in one or another case at regular intervals. Politically too, Mr. Prasad is passing through the most crucial time as last year he anointed his younger son Tejashwi Yadav as his successor. A former cricketer, Tejashwi Yadav, 28, is leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. He has his task cut out. With elections a year away, he has to keep the party together to counter the ruling alliance of the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) and the BJP. Though both sons Tejashwi and Tej Pratap Yadav are new entrants to politics with little experience, they have managed to hold the reins in the absence of the party patriarch. The senior party leaders, too, have reposed faith in them, but only time will tell for how long.
Four other cases of the fodder scam are staring at Mr. Prasad, indicating that he may have to spend a longer time in jail. Mr. Prasad is named in six such cases and he has already been convicted in two — the Chaibasa and Deoghar treasury cases — for five and three-and-a-half years respectively. He may get bail in the present Deoghar treasury case from the Jharkhand High Court in the days to come, but he will have to go to special CBI courts in the other four cases.
As other family members too come under the scanner, the JD(U) and the BJP have been continuously slamming the family over their imminent jail term and also a possible breaking away of party leaders. But RJD leaders are putting up a brave face, saying: “Lalu lives in our heart and in his absence every party man will become Lalu Prasad.” Political observers buttress this fact, saying Mr. Prasad’s jail term will further consolidate his voters, both emotionally and electorally.