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IN WHAT was seen as a reprieve of sorts for Mr Lalu Prasad, the Supreme Court ruled that the Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government had no power to challenge the acquittal of the RJD supremo and his wife Rabri Devi in the disproportionate assets case — an offshoot of the multi-crore fodder scam. The court said as per the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the prosecution agency in the case, the central government had taken a conscious and considered decision that no ground was made for filing an appeal against the acquittal of the duo in the case.
The apex court verdict came as a shot in the arm for the beleaguered former railway minister and his wife, as the sword which was hanging over the duo due to the Patna high court’s decision to admit the appeal of the present dispensation relating to the Rs 46-lakh DA case stands removed. With his political fortunes on the downswing, the apex court order brought him some cheer.

Celebrations in the Yadav household, however, did not start immediately as troubles for the former railway minister are far from over. He is facing six other cases related to the fodder scam, which are in various stages of trial in Bihar and Jharkhand.

Nevertheless, the RJD chief appeared upbeat while there was gloom in the NDA camp. “The Supreme Court is like a God and its judgement is fully welcome and acceptable,” he said, but refused to be drawn into any controversy by refraining from targeting his political opponents. Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, on the other hand, said the state government would consult legal experts before taking the next step on the issue.

A bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, Justice R M Lodha and Justice B S Chauhan said: “In our opinion, the Legislature has maintained a mutually exclusive division in the matter of appeal from an order of acquittal inasmuch as the competent authority to appeal from an order of acquittal in two types of cases referred to in sub-section (2) (of Section 378 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973) is the central government and the authority of the state government in relation to such cases has been excluded.

"As a necessary corollary, it has to be held, and we hold, that the State Government (of Bihar) is not competent to direct its public prosecutor to present appeal from the judgment dated December 18, 2006, passed by the Special Judge, CBI (AHD), Patna,” the bench added.

The trial court had acquitted both Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi, holding that the prosecution had failed to prove the charges levelled against them. The apex court turned down the plea of the Bihar government which had said that the use of the expressions “in any case” in sub-section (1) of the 1973 Code and “also” in sub-section (2) of the code clearly indicates that Legislature intended that the general rule would be that the state government may file an appeal in any and every case including cases covered by sub-section (2) and the central government may additionally file an appeal in a case covered by sub-section (2) of the code.

"The phrase “in any case” in sub-section (1) of Section 378, without hesitation, means “in all cases”, but the opening words in the said Section put fetters on the state government in directing appeal to be filed in two types of cases mentioned in sub-section (2),” said Justice Lodha writing the verdict for the bench.

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