The topic cropped up during a hearing in a fodder scam case related to Dumka district that the former Chief Minister is facing. Lalu Yadav, 69, started cribbing about conditions at the Birsa Munda jail in state capital Ranchi.
On previous occasions that he had been jailed, he would either have a free run of the jail or a guest house would be notified as a jail. Judge Shivpal Singh, who had convicted him, told him that he could not go against the jail manual.
Mr Yadav, the judge added, could even stay with his family in the open jail and that is why he had recommended the open jail at Hazaribagh, about 150 km from Ranchi. This jail was opened in 2013 for naxals, convicts or undertrials, who are seen open to the idea of giving up weapons and returning to the mainstream. They can stay with their family in one of the 100 cottages built for them, earn a living and even pick up a skill or two during their prison stay.
“But it is for naxals,” Lalu Yadav shot back and invoked the rulebook.
“Sir, please see the rules of open jail… Only those above 60 years and sentenced for more than five years can be lodged there and you cannot send anyone without his consent,” Mr Yadav, better known for his rustic wit rather than his knowledge of law, said, surprising many in the court with his knowledge of the rules.
Lalu Yadav has made it a point to underline on more than one occasion during court proceedings that he was a trained lawyer and registered to practise law in the Supreme Court too.
As the conversation went along, the judge conceded that he had heard the open jail wasn’t in such a good shape and hoped the jail authorities would probably fix things if someone like Lalu Yadav served time there.
In his verdict, the judge had explained his decision to recommend an open jail, pointing that the convicts were “experts” in supply of fodder and medicines to animals and could help run the dairy.
But there were practical problems, Lalu Yadav seemed to suggest. The RJD chief said he is a popular mass leader and if you try to shift him, then lakhs of people would accompany him to the open jail. But if he expected that scenario to persuade the judge to change his mind, it didn’t work.
The judge said he could fix this problem and order the administration to stop them. “Go to an open jail and you can keep waving (to your supporters from a distance) through the day,” the CBI Special Judge said.
In between, Lalu Yadav also appeared to be trying to convince the judge to give him a lighter sentence in the Dumka fodder scam case. Last week, the same judge had sentenced him to 3.5 years prison in a fodder scam case relating to the Deoghar district, ignoring Lalu Yadav’s plea for a jail term less than 3 years that would entitle him to release on bail.
Since the Dumka case is based on a similar set of evidence, he apparently expects a conviction when the judge delivers the verdict, possibly on 24 January. “Next time, please be considerate,” Lalu Yadav said, but again, understandably, got no assurance from the court. Mr Singh said he couldn’t predict his judgment.