N K Singh
With the pronouncement of judgment by a Ranchi court on Monday convicting Lalu Prasad Yadav, Jagannath Mishra, also an ex-chief minister of Bihar, and 43 others, a chapter has been closed in one of the long-drawn out fodder scam cases. Besides these two, four IAS officers were also convicted in the case, on the charge of fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 37.7 crore from the Chaibasa treasury. Along with Mishra, Yadav was taken into custody and sent to Birsa Munda central jail at Hotwar near Ranchi. The Court fixed 3 October for pronouncement of sentences.
This and other related fodder scam cases were taken up for investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under specific orders of the Patna High Court. The circumstances under which the High Court passed the orders, transferring the cases to the CBI, were surrounded with controversy. The scam, involving an estimated Rs 950 crore, broke out after the then CM, Yadav, tabled the CAG report in Bihar legislature in December 1995. The report revealed how the animal husbandry department had been making excessive withdrawals from the treasury. Vigilance enquiry ordered by Yadav did not satisfy anybody and there was an outcry for a CBI probe because the corruption was massive and was spread over the entire state of Bihar, which then included Jharkhand. Significantly, the case in which the two former CMs were convicted concerned the Chaibasa treasury, now part of Jharkhand.
Earlier, the decision of the Joint Director, CBI, in charge of investigation of cases, to take the help of the Army for arrest of Yadav, then Chief Minister of Bihar, in a related case at Patna had aroused a lot of controversy. That Joint Director today is a minister in the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal today.
Then Samata Party MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Singh had made an open demand for appointment of the officer as a Governor by the then NDA regime, but PM A B Vajpayee had rejected the proposal to maintain high standards in governance and keep the CBI apolitical.
The prosecution in this group of cases also saw abrupt transfer of Director CBI, Joginder Singh, by PM I K Gujral for an announcement by him of a proposed charge-sheet in a case against Yadav. It is also significant that here was a case in which both the Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition easily joined hands and became parties to the conspiracy, when it came to indulging in corrupt practices.
Undeniably, the conviction by the Ranchi CBI court of Yadav, Mishra and others in one of the fodder scam cases is a feather in the cap of the CBI. Yes it has been, like most, a long-drawn process. But ultimately success has come to the CBI. During investigation in the group of cases, three big mansions in Patna created quite a sensation when no one came to claim ownership because of fear that it would have meant owning up to involvement in corrupt practices, rampant those days. The scam had shocked the entire state of Bihar, and the Patna High Court, which ordered the CBI inquiry. Prior to that, things had become quite blatant, and there was an impression that nothing could touch those at the helm of power or those close to them as they were above law. The convictions should serve as a lesson for others, holding high offices of public trust.
It seems Yadav is really in for bad times. The SC has ruled a lawmaker would stand disqualified no sooner he is found guilty in a case and convicted for two years or more. This was sought to be negated by the Congress government through an ordinance, which became subject of a big controversy. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi barged into a Press meet called by party spokesperson Ajay Maken to justify the ordinance. He referred to the ordinance as nonsense, fit to be torn off and thrown. The ordinance now is likely to die a natural death, depriving Yadav of relief. He now faces the prospect of immediately losing his Lok Sabha seat as well as getting disqualified from contesting the next Lok Sabha election in 2014.
Yadav had fought up to the Supreme Court, praying for transfer of the case from the judge who ultimately convicted him, alleging prejudice on the ground that he is a close relation of the education minister of Bihar in the JD-U government. He lost the battle in the SC, but in politics, perception matters which, among his supporters, is that the judge was prejudiced. On the ground therefore in Bihar, Lalu&’s support base may get strengthened with this judgment.
The writer, a former Joint Director, CBI, is currently President of the Samata Party.