The Supreme Court’s reprieve to RJD-chief Lalu Prasad Yadav on a fodder scam case by staying the 15 July trial court judgment after the former alleged that a minister in the Nitish Kumar government could influence the verdict as he was related to the trial judge leaves a foul impression. Although it is certain that the Supreme Court has enough legal minutiae to give the reprieve on technical grounds, what should not be forgotten is that the fodder scam is symbolic of the deplorable nexus between bureaucracy and the political circuits, better known as the mafia raj, and letting Lalu go scotfree would be tantamount to an absolute travesty of justice. Lalu Prasad, who has alleged in his appeal that the trial judge’s sister was married to Bihar minister PK Shahi’s, and hence was susceptible to influence or pressure from the ruling Nitish Kumar regime in Bihar, has made a superbly well-timed move to stay the order, citing the ‘sudden haste’ by the courts to reach a verdict. The emphasis on haste is laughable as the matter is at least 16 years old, with the CBI chargesheet against Lalu formulated way back in 1998. In fact, Lalu, who has publicly acknowledged that the fodder scam had cost him his flourishing political career, has resorted to machinations in order to stall justice from taking its course. By staying the trial court hearing and shifting the fodder case, wherein the Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo is accused of participating in the nexus that siphoned off over Rs 9 billion in so-called fodder funds for livestock that didn’t exist, the Supreme Court has actually pushed back the trial by a few years more because the new judge would have to go through the entire length of the voluminous documentation and come to his/her own conclusion, thus nullifying the earlier efforts by the previous judge.
While it is true that the Nitish Kumar government might influence the pace of the trial court proceedings, under no circumstances would the decision be influenced, for the hallmark of judiciary is impartial and objective analysis. Hence, the Supreme Court’s stance in Lalu’s favour doesn’t bode well for the long-term effect of the decision could be disastrous. The apex court, which dismissed the Jharkhand High court’s previous decision that disregarded Lalu’s petition, following which the plantiff moved to the Supreme Court, has cited that everyone has the fundamental right to fair trial and therefore, any possibility of the judgement being influenced must be eliminated. However, the Supreme Court shouldn’t have forgotten that the fodder scam is synonymous in India with wide-scale bureaucratic and political corruption and is indicative of the criminalisation of politics, bureaucracy as well as corporate interest groups that malign the country’s governance and state machineries. In fact, the fodder scam is one of the earliest and biggest corruption case that went on for decades and had participants across the political spectrum in Bihar, including the former chief minister Jagannath Mishra, and particularly Lalu Prasad Yadav. The Supreme Court should pay heed to the public sentiment and hasten the court procedure so that justice is meted out to the guilty parties.