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Judge’s knot gives Lalu breather

Wednesday, 10 July 2013 | PNS | New Delhi

In a major relief to RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, the Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the pronouncement of court verdict scheduled for July 15 against him in the fodder scam.

Lalu had alleged possible bias against him by the trail court judge who is closely related to a Cabinet Minister in the Nitish Kumar Government.

According to Lalu, the presiding judge’s sister Minu Devi was married to the cousin of PK Shahi, who is Education Minister in the present Bihar Government. Though the Jharkhand High Court had dismissed this apprehension raised by Lalu in its order of July 1, senior advocate Ram Jethmalani impressed the apex court that his client had reasonable apprehension of “real likelihood of bias”.

Making out a case for the Supreme Court to intervene, Jethmalani showed evidence that the judge’s sister resided at the ancestral house of the family in Siwan. This is also the permanent address of Shahi, who stayed in the house during his visit to the village. Shahi lost the Maharajganj parliamentary poll to an RJD candidate, following which there was likelihood that he might seek to settle political scores with Lalu through this case, Jethmalani alleged.

In the event the case got shifted, the trial will have to begin afresh. The bench of justices P Sathasivam and J Chelameswar issued notice to  the CBI on Lalu’s petition as it found the apprehension hard to ignore. An intervention was made on behalf of Janata Dal(U) MP Rajeev Ranjan Singh, alias Lallan, who objected to the Court entertaining the matter. But the court questioned his locus standi and remarked, “We cannot reject these allegations in limine….Let CBI tell there is no relation. If there is no evidence, we will reject it.” Staying the trial court proceedings, the court posted the matter for July 23.

The case relates to illegal withdrawal of Rs 35.7 crores from Chaibasa treasury during the year 1994-95 when Lalu was the Chief Minister of Bihar. In 1997, the CBI filed a chargesheet against Lalu and several others. After over 12 years, the trial judge asked all accused to file written arguments by July 1 putting up the case for decision on July 15. Jethmalani attacked this practice adopted by the judge as it defeated his client’s valuable right of a fair trial.

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