PATNA: RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, whose once-formidable aura as “Bihar’s strongman” has significantly diminished in recent months, received yet another blow on Saturday when a special CBI court in Ranchi sentenced him to three years and a half in jail in a case of the Rs 1,000-crore fodder scam.
The 69-year-old former Bihar CM for two terms and former railway minister was also fined Rs 5 lakh by judge Shivpal Singh, who had convicted him and 15 other accused in the case on December 23. Failure to pay the fine would entail another six months in jail, ruled the judge in the sentence pronounced through videoconferencing.
Yadav, who has been lodged at Birsa Munda Central Jail at Hotwar near Ranchi for the past 14 days, remained unusually quiet when the sentence was read out, said sources. This is the second time that he was convicted and sentenced to a jail term in the scam that surfaced in 1996, when he was the chief minister of Bihar, and cost him the state’s top post the next year.
Like his previous conviction in September 2013, the court found Yadav guilty of corruption, cheating and criminal conspiracy in connection with the fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 89.27 lakh from the Deoghar treasury between 1991 and 1994. Six of the total 22 accused facing trial in the case, including former chief minister Jagannath Mishra of Congress, were acquitted on December 23.
The 15 other convicts were awarded jail terms ranging from 3.5 years to the maximum seven years, and fines ranging between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 10 lakh. Former JD(U) MP Jagdish Sharma got the largest punishment of seven years in jail and Rs 10 lakh fine.
When Sharma’s sentence was announced before Yadav in an alphabetical order of names, the RJD chief’s countenance suddenly turned more sombre, said sources. “He apparently feared that a sentence of similar severity would come his way,” said a court official. Yadav’s lawyers had earlier prayed for minimum sentence for him, citing his diabetic condition and an open heart surgery he underwent in August 2014.
The sentence of over three years meant that Yadav would not be able to get provisional bail from the CBI court itself. He would have to move Jharkhand High Court for bail. Yadav’s elder son and former Bihar health minister Tej Pratap Yadav said in Patna that a bail application would be moved in the HC on Monday.
Yadav’s jail sentence set Bihar’s political corridors abuzz with speculations about RJD’s future in his absence and the impact on the ruling NDA. Despite having been debarred from contesting polls after his 2013 conviction and remaining out of power in Bihar since July 2017, Yadav remains the central pillar of the state’s politics. RJD, currently Bihar’s main Opposition party, has the largest number of MLAs in the state Assembly.
“The judiciary performed its duty. We will move for bail. We have full faith in the judiciary. Lalujee was framed in the scam cases as part of a political conspiracy by his rivals,” said his younger son and former deputy chief minister Tejaswi Yadav.
Senior JD(U) leader KC Tyagi welcomed the jail term for Yadav and described the court’s decision as a “historic verdict”. Deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi of BJP said: “Lalu got what he deserved. These are the fruits of the massive corruption he indulged in. He, his family and their party should accept the judicial verdict with humility”.