Supreme Court restores conspiracy charge, orders trial in related cases
The Supreme Court on Monday revived conspiracy charges and paved the way for a fresh trial of RJD leader Lalu Prasad, former Bihar chief minister Jagannath Mishra, and other accused in connection with the Rs 900-crore fodder scam case. The 1999 fodder scam relates to embezzlement of about over RS 900 crore on the pretext of purchasing livestock feed by the Animal Husbandry department from various districts when Lalu was the chief minister of Bihar between 1990 and 1997.
A total 64 cases had been registered in the Bihar Fodder Scam. 52 cases involved withdrawal of huge sums of money from government treasuries falling within Jharkhand. A bench headed by justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy while setting aside a Jharkhand High Court’s 2014 order that dropped conspiracy charges against Lalu and others held that they will be tried separately for corruption in a criminal case involving the withdrawal of `84.53 lakh and falsification of records from the Deoghar Treasury in 1991-94. It also asked the trial court to decide the case expeditiously within nine months.
The HC had stopped criminal proceedings against Lalu on the ground that the politician cannot be found guilty of the same offences twice under Section 300 of the CrPC. He was then already sentenced to a five-year rigorous imprisonment in a corruption case connected to the fodder scam involving the withdrawal of over `37.7 crore from the Chaibasa Treasury during 1994-95 on the basis of 78 fake allotment letters.
Lalu’s membership as Lok Sabha MP was scrapped after he was sentenced to jail as per a Supreme Court ruling that calls for disqualification of convicted MPs and MLAs. He was barred from contesting elections for 11 years. However, he was granted bail by the SC in December 2013.
The apex court said that this is “a case of different offences.” “There was conspiracy hatched which was continuing one and has resulted into various offences. It was joined from time to time by different accused persons, so whenever an offence is committed in continuation of the conspiracy, it would be punishable separately for different periods… there have to be separate trials. Thus it cannot be said to be a case of double jeopardy at all. It cannot be said that for the same offence the accused persons are being tried again,” the judgment stated “Each trial has to be separately held and the accused to be punished separately for the offence committed in furtherance of conspiracy. In case there is only one trial for such conspiracy for separate offences, it would enable the accused person to go scot-free and commit number of offences which is not the intendment of law,” the judge said.
Coming down heavily on the CBI for the delay in filing appeal, the judges said that the investigative agency is “expected be more vigilant. It has failed to live up to its reputation. In the instant case, lethargy on its part is intolerable. If CBI fails to act timely, peoples’ faith will be shaken in its effectiveness.”It also asked the CBI director to look into the matter and “saddle the responsibility on a concerned person.”