On October 3, 2013, a special CBI court verdict, after 17 years of protracted legal procedures, slapped Lalu Yadav with a five-year jail sentence and a hefty fine of Rs. 25 lakhs. The CBI Judge Pravas Kumar Singh had also pronounced the quantum of sentence for 37 of the 45 convicts in what was known as the Animal Husbandry Department (fodder scam) that amounted to Rs. 930 crore.
Among the convicts included another former Chief Minister of Bihar, Jagannath Mishra and a JD(U) member of parliament, Jagdish Sharma.
In 2013, even after the conclusion of 45 out of 53 Animal Husbandry Department cases, Lalu had four more cases pending against him.
The same year (1996), as the fodder scam was unraveling against the Chief Minister of Bihar, another case of corruption was opening up against the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
In June 1996, Dr. Subramaniam Swamy had filed a complaint in the court of the Chennai Sessions Judge alleging that Jayalalithaa who had assumed office of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1991 acquired assets disproportionate to her known sources of income.
Her wealth, declared “nil” in 1989-90, grew just a year later to Rs. 1.89 crore and then to a whopping Rs. 38.21 crore during 1994-95. In a hypocritical display of generosity, Jayalalithaa was drawing a token monthly salary of Re. 1.00 as the Chief Minister.
Upon the complaint, the judge ordered an investigation which was stalled by the High Court following an objection by Jayalalithaa and others. In September 1996, however, the High Court ordered the Director of Vigilance and Anti-corruption (DVAC) to reopen the investigation.
In September, 2014, after 18 years of investigation and trial, a special judge, John Michael D’Cunha, delivered a 1000-page judgement which held Jayalalithaa and three co-accused – N. Sasikala Natarajan, V.N. Sudhakaran and J. Elavarasi -- guilty of corruption. Jayalalithaa was thrown into the jail, but she and her party challenged the verdict in the High Court of Karnataka (another court in a neighboring state to which the case was transferred). The Tamil Nadu High Court was suspected of being influenced by Jayalalithaa.
On 11 May 2015, the guilty verdict was overturned by Justice C.R.Kumaraswamy and Jayalalithaa and others were acquitted of all charges. As the Chief Ministership was restored to Jayalalithaa, the Karnataka government appealed in the Supreme Court against a very controversial Karnataka High Court verdict.
The Supreme Court agreed to review the case that took nearly a year and a half. It quashed the Karnataka High Court ruling on 15 February 2017. That meant the findings of the lower court special judge, so painstakingly put in a 1000-page judgement, were upheld by the apex court. The co-accused with Jayalalithaa were put behind the bars, she herself died (5 December 2016) before the Supreme Court ruling. Heavy fines were, however, levied against her property.
The purpose of recounting the corruption-court-case saga of Jayalalithaa is to open one’s eyes to the fact that, although it took painfully long time and enormous resources, it came a full circle. The efforts of the complainants, the investigative agencies and the courts yielded results.
When, where and how the people of Bihar (and India) will have the closure of the fodder scam cases? Is the wheel of justice going to take a full circle in Bihar, as it did in Tamil Nadu?
In the plethora of multi-layered cases, average people seem to be confused. The last time it was learnt (and, it may be incomplete information) that roughly 13 months Lalu spent behind the bars before and after his conviction would be deducted from his sentence of five years. That he was given bail because other co-accused were able to secure bail for themselves. Then the CBI and other judicial courts were not able to ensure the presence of all the accused, and therefore, the cases kept getting extended. Also, after the formation of the Nitish-Lalu alliance, there were reports that certain relevant files were missing from the Animal Husbandry departments.
All pointers indicate that no one seems to be serious about expediting the cases so that the Lalu-led group accused in the fodder scam completed their jail sentence. Following the 2013 verdict, M Venkaiah Naidu, a former BJP national president, had stated that his party would insist on special courts to speed up trials of politicians in corruption cases. Ironically, the current federal Law Minister is from Bihar where the BJP is constantly beaten up by Lalu Yadav.
Nitish Kumar had pledged to the people of Bihar that the real estate properties of corrupt public officials would be seized and converted into schools. He knows what the possessions and assets Lalu had in 1990 and what does he have now. Sadly, there will not be a Disproportionate Assets case against the convicted felon since he’s now a senior partner in the coalition government.
Raj Narain, the late Socialist mentor of both Lalu and Nitish, used to say in speeches that the years numerically ending with 7 had special significance in Indian history: Independence in 1947; the first defeat of the Congress party in majority of states in 1967; the post-Emergency defeat of the Indira Congress in 1977 and so on.
Add to that list 1997 when Lalu’s Chief Ministership came to an end following a court-issued warrant of arrest against him and his surreptitious succession by Rabri Devi. In 2017, with the fodder scam cases still open, will the people of Bihar work together to send Lalu and others behind the bars to complete their sentences?
Like Jayalalithaa, Lalu shouldn’t die before the final judicial verdict!!
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.