Case: State of Jharkhand through SP, CBI v. Lalu Prasad
Three separate judgments had been delivered acquitting 3 persons namely; Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sajal Chakraborty, and Dr. Jagannath Mishra on the ground of their conviction in one of the criminal cases arising out of fodder scam of erstwhile State of Bihar. The Appeal has arisen out of the three separate judgments. In the wake of large-scale defalcation of public funds, fraudulent transactions and fabrication of accounts in Animal Husbandry Department of State of Bihar popularly known as fodder scam, Central Bureau of Investigation (for short, ‘the CBI’) had been ordered by the to investigate corruption in public administration, misconduct by the bureaucracy, fabrication of official records, misappropriation of public funds by an independent agency. Lalu Prasad Yadav was prosecuted and convicted in RC No.20 (A)/96 with respect to aforesaid period 1.4.1994 to 31.1.1995 relating to Chaibasa treasury. The charges had been framed for commission of offence of criminal conspiracy punishable under section 120B read with sections 409, 420, 467, 468, 471, 477, 477A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (for short, ‘the IPC’) and section 13(1)(c) read with section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (for short ‘the PC Act’) where defalcation/general conspiracy was alleged between 1988 and 1996 and included various treasuries of erstwhile State Bihar. In the case against Dr. Jagannath Mishra he has been convicted in RC No.20(A)/96 with respect to Chaibasa treasury in respect of misappropriation of Rs.37.70 crores for the period 1994-95 whereas the prosecution has been quashed with respect to RC No.38(A)/96 relating to misappropriation of Rs.3.76 crores from Dumka treasury as against actual allotment of Rs.1.5 lakhs with the help of 96 fake vouchers in the financial year 1995-96. Sajal Chakraborty had been convicted by Trial Court in RC No.51(A)/96 relating to Chaibasa treasury regarding Rs.39.92 crores misappropriation against actual allotment of Rs.4,09,750/- with the help of 580 vouchers, 4789 fake supply orders for the financial year 1993-94 on 14.7.2008 but acquitted by the High Court in appeal. The prosecution has been quashed vis a vis Sajal Chakraborty in RC No.20(A)/96 relating to Chaibasa Treasury and RC No.68(A)/96 relating to Chaibasa Treasury for misappropriation of Rs.37.62 crores during the financial year 1992-93
- It was argued on behalf of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Dr. Jagannath Mishra and others that it was a case of only a single conspiracy and therefore there should be an amalgamation of trials as per the provisions contained in section 223 Cr.PC. This Court opined that charges were not framed at that stage. It is for the trial court to decide the prayer for joint trial. There were a large number of accused persons. It was also observed that main offense was under the PC Act and conspiracy was an allied offense.
- It was submitted by Shri Ranjit Kumar, learned Solicitor General appearing for CBI that as the offences relate to different treasuries for different financial years, for different amounts running into several crores with the help of different fake allotment letters, supply orders, different falsification of books of accounts, different suppliers, Article 20(2) of Constitution of India is not attracted as the offences cannot be said to be the same. Similarly, the provisions of section 300 Cr.PC are not attracted. They are different offenses and transactions. Reliance has been placed upon section 212(2) of the Cr.PC so as to contend that the period of charge for the offense of misappropriation shall not exceed one year. There have to be different trials for different periods. Reference has also been made to sections 219, 220 and 221 of Cr.PC. There is a difference between the same kind and the same offense.
- The question arises whether there is one general conspiracy pursuant to which various defalcations of different amounts have been made running into several years from different treasuries, by different sets of accused persons. Whether there could have been only one trial or more than one. Whether the legal requirement is for one trial or more than one in such cases.
- Section 219 Cr.PC provides that three offenses of the same kind within a year may be charged together. It is apparent from section 212 read with section 219 that there have to be separate trials for different years covering the period of more than one year. Same kind of offense is a different thing than the “same offense” for the purpose of sections 219, 220 or 300. The modus operandi being the same would not make it a single offense when the offenses are separate. If the conspiracy is furthered into several distinct offenses there have to be separate trials.
- One general conspiracy from 1988 to 1996 has led to various offenses as such there have to be different trials for each of such offense based upon the conspiracy in which different persons have participated at different times at different places for completion of the offense. Whatever could be combined has already been done. The court did not find any merit in the submissions made by learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of accused persons. The court observed that the doctrine as applied in civil cases has no application in criminal cases at all.
- The court questioned CBI that there was a delay of 113, 157 and 222 days in filing the respective appeals by the CBI. Applications have been filed for condonation of delay on account of the departmental, administrative procedures involved in for filing the special leave petition. It has been satisfactorily submitted that unlike the private litigant the matters relating to the Government are required to be considered at various levels and then only a decision is taken to file special leave petition. The process of referring the particular file from one department to another is a time-consuming process and decisions have to be taken collectively. The explanation offered by the CBI of movement of the file so as to condone the delay so as to subserve the ends of justice deserves to be accepted.
The Court has ordered set aside the impugned judgments and orders passed by the High Court, allow the appeals and direct the trial court concerned to expedite the trial and to conclude the same as far as possible within a period of nine months from today.