SC suspends Lalu's trial in a fodder scam case

New Delhi, July 9 (IANS) Offering a breather to RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, the Supreme Court Tuesday suspended proceedings against him in a Jharkhand trial court in a case of alleged financial lapses in the animal husbandry department, popularly known as the fodder scam.

The apex court bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice J. Chelameswar also issued notice on Lalu Prasad's plea for transfer of the case against him from a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) special court in Jharkhand to any other court with competent jurisdiction. Lalu also alleged the trial court's likely bias against him.

The apex court order came when senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, who appeared for the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader, told the court that the trial court had followed an unusual procedure.

He said while the arguments were in progress, the trial court put up a notice informing the parties to the case to file written arguments by July 1, so that the judgment could be pronounced July 15.

Senior counsel told the court that even the Jharkhand High court in its impugned order had described the trial court action as something that was "foreign to the scheme framed under the code".

While issuing notice and granting interim stay, the apex court told Jethmalani: "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."

The petition of Lalu Prasad said that on at least three occasions the trial court judge passed orders that had grossly impinged on 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 high court.

The apex court was informed that there was likelihood of a bias as Menu Devi - the younger sister of the trial court judge - was married to late Jainendra Shahi, a cousin of Bihar minister P.K. Shahi who was recently defeated by a RJD candidate in a parliamentary by-election.

The court was told that Mithilesh Kumar filed an application in December 2012 under Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code for summoning Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and many others.

Although the hearing on the said application (by Mithilesh Kumar) had concluded in January, the Jharkhand trial court judge has not passed any order on it till now, Lalu Prasad's petition said.

The notice issued by the apex court is returnable in two weeks.

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 from Bihar in November 2000. Different CBI special courts have passed judgments in more than 43 cases.

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