The Supreme Court Thursday ruled that the Bihar government was not entitled to challenge the acquittal of former railway minister Lalu Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi, a former Bihar chief minister, in a corruption case probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The significant verdict, imparting a momentous legal relief to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief and his wife, was delivered by a bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice R.M. Lodha and Justice B.S. Chauhan.
The bench had reserved its judgment after a day-long hearing on a bunch of lawsuits raising the issue if the state government was empowered to challenge the acquittal of Yadav couple in a case probed and prosecuted by the CBI.
Conceding the argument by the couple’s counsel, former union law minister Ram Jethmalani, the bench agreed that as per the provisions of the section 378 (2) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), the state government was not entitled to challenge a trial court ruling in a case probed and prosecuted by the CBI.
The right belongs to the investigative agency or the central government, the bench ruled.
The case against the Yadav couple, whose political career was dwindling since their party’s dismal show in the last general election, involved acquisition and accumulation of wealth far exceeding their legal income during their tenures as the state’s chief ministers.
In the wake of the fodder scam involving illegal and unauthorised withdrawal of billions of rupees from the Bihar government treasury between 1992 and 1997 on the pretext of buying fodder for animals, the CBI had booked the couple on charges of amassing property worth Rs.4.6 million above their legal income.
Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi, however, were acquitted of all charges in the seven-year-old disproportionate assets case by Special CBI Judge Munni Lal Paswan Dec 18, 2006.
The Bihar government in early 2007 moved the Patna High Court challenging the couple’s acquittal, contending that owing to a Congress-led central government, enjoying the support of the RJD, the CBI was not keen to challenge the acquittal.
Appearing for the Bihar government, senior counsel L. Nageshwar Rao asserted that the state had full right to challenge the acquittal as it was the state’s exchequer which had been defrauded by the couple through illegal and corrupt acts of omission and commission.
Rao contended that merely because the state government got the corruption case against the two probed by the CBI, it did not forfeit its right to challenge their acquittals.
‘It is rather the obligation of the state of Bihar to ensure that offenders are brought to book,’ he added.
Rao also contended that under section 378 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code, the state government was legally entitled to challenge the acquittal of the Yadav couple.
Jethmalani contended that the state government had no role whatsoever in a case probed and prosecuted by the CBI.
He asserted that as per section 378 (2) of the CrPC, the CBI or the central government was the sole authority to probe the case. The CBI counsel also supported Jethmalani’s argument.