SC gives CBI a week on Lalu plea in fodder scam case

New Delhi, July 23 (IANS) The Supreme Court Tuesday gave the CBI a week's time to spell out its stand on Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad's plea for transfer of trial in a fodder scam case against him to another court.

The scam is linked to alleged financial lapses in the Bihar animal husbandry department in the 1990s.

An apex court bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi adjourned the hearing after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) failed to tell the court about its position on Lalu Prasad's plea.

As senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, appearing for Lalu Prasad, also sought a week's time to file an additional affidavit in support of his plea seeking transfer of the trial, Justice Ranjan Gogoi observed: "Why don't you say whatever you have to say? Why are you delaying the matter?"

"That is why we issued notice," Chief Justice Sathasivam said when Jethmalani told the court that while Lalu Prasad's arguments were going on, the judge of the special trial court July 1 said he would pronounce the verdict July 15.

Opposing Lalu Prasad's plea for transfer of trial to another court for fear of bias, senior counsel Ranjit Kumar told the court that Lalu Prasad's counsel "argued for 13 days and arguments from both sides took place for more than one year. There were 275 days of hearing. Seventeen years have gone by (since the scam took place). There was no objection to this judge (earlier)".

Ranjit Kumar appeared for Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Kumar Singh on whose public suit the fodder scam came to light nearly two decades ago.

Posting the matter for Aug 6, the apex court asked the CBI and the petitioner to say whatever they wanted to so that the court would hold the final hearing into the matter on the next date.

There was an indication that the court may transfer the case to another court when the judges said "we will ask the high court or we will nominate the judge".

Lalu Prasad moved the apex court July 9 for transfer of the case from a CBI special court in Jharkhand to any other court with competent jurisdiction.

The apex court, while issuing the notice and granting interim stay of the special court proceedings at the last hearing, said: "We will get these facts verified. If what you say is correct, we will proceed (with the petition) and if what you say is wrong, then we will dismiss the petition."

Lalu Prasad's petition said that on at least three occasions the trial judge passed orders that grossly impinged his valuable right of defence and his fundamental right to free and fair trial. All these orders were either set aside or modified by the Jharkhand High court.

The apex court said its interim order at the last hearing staying the special court's proceedings would continue to remain in force.

The multi-million-rupee fodder scam in Bihar surfaced in 1996. Around 54 of the 61 cases were transferred to Jharkhand when it was carved out of Bihar in November 2000. Different CBI special courts have passed judgments in more than 40 cases.

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