New Delhi: Lalu Yadav's trial for corruption during his term as Chief Minister of Bihar must be completed within nine months, the Supreme Court ruled today.
- Lalu accused of corruption while Chief Minister in the 1990s
- Supreme Court says trial must be completed in 9 months
- Lalu already convicted in one of 6 corruption cases, is out on bail
Lalu, as he is popularly known, participates in the three-party coalition government in Bihar that is headed by Nitish Kumar, who is under increasing pressure to comment on various controversies engulfing Lalu and his two sons, who are both ministers in Bihar.
Lalu, 68, is banned from running for office after being convicted in what is known as the fodder scam - in the 1990s, while he was head of the Bihar government, feed for cattle was bought using inflated invoices; in some cases, despite money being paid, no fodder was bought at all. The swindle, according to the CBI, was worth about 1,000 crores and played out during 1990 to 1997.
In 2013, Lalu, who heads the Rashtriya Janata Dal, is named in six cases embedded in the fodder scam. He was convicted in 2013 in one of them and then asked that the others be dropped since he cannot be tried for the same offenses again. The Supreme Court has rejected that request and said he will be tried in all the cases.
It took more than a decade and a half for the fodder scam case to reach a verdict in the first case that saw him being sentenced to five years in jail; he is out on bail.
Over the weekend, the BJP demanded Mr Kumar take action against Lalu after a TV channel broadcast what it claimed were secretly-taped conversations between him and gangster Mohammad Shahabuddin, a leader from his party, who is in jail. The phone call was allegedly taped last year. The BJP says it confirms that Lalu was in touch with a jailed underworld don and offered to examine various complaints he made, including about a police officer whose performance he described as problematic. NDTV cannot verify the authenticity of the tape.
One of India's most charismatic politicians, Lalu's term as top leader of Bihar led to the state becoming synonymous with violence, poverty and graft.
He still enjoys huge popular support for championing backward castes and in the last Bihar election in 2015, his party won more seats than any other, but agreed to honour an earlier agreement with Mr Kumar to serve as No 2 in the alliance. In recent weeks, his sons, Tejashwi and Tej Pratap, have been accused by the BJP of concealing vast real estate assets which were illicitly acquired, according to the opposition.