A Delhi court today gave interim bail to Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Yadav till January 19 in two Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) scam cases filed by investigating agencies CBI and Enforcement Directorate.
Special Judge Arun Bharadwaj granted interim bail to Lalu Prasad Yadav after he was produced before the court via video conference from a Ranchi jail, where he is having time as a prisoner in a fodder scam case. He was unable to come to Delhi due to health reasons, an official from his party said.
The court directed both the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to file their answers to Lalu Yadav’s application seeking regular bail in both the cases.
The cases concerned to alleged irregularities in granting operational contract of two IRCTC (Railways) hotels to a private firm.
The court had earlier given regular bail to Lalu Yadav’s wife Rabri Devi and son Tejashwi Yadav in the CBI case. They are also on interim bail in the case filed by the Enforcement Directorate, which was elongated till January 19, the next date of hearing.
In its charge sheet, the CBI had stated there was enough evidence against Lalu Yadav, Rabri Devi, Tejashwi Yadav and other accused, comprising Additional Member of Railway Board BK Agarwal, who was then the group general manager of the IRCTC (Railways).
Besides them, former Union minister Prem Chand Gupta, his wife Sarla Gupta, then managing director of IRCTC PK Goyal and then IRCTC director Rakesh Saxena is also stated as accused in the charge sheet.
Among others named in the charge sheet are — then group general managers of IRCTC VK Asthana and RK Goyal and Vijay Kochhar, Vinay Kochhar, both directors of Sujata Hotels and owners of Chanakya Hotel.
Delight Marketing Company, now called Lara Projects, and Sujata Hotels Private Limited have also been named as accused firms in the charge sheet.
The CBI had registered a case in July last year and carried out searches at 12 locations in Patna, Ranchi, Bhubaneswar, and Gurgaon in connection with the case. The charges in the case comprise criminal conspiracy, cheating, and corruption, the CBI had said.
As per the charge sheet, between 2004 and 2014, a conspiracy was hatched in pursuance of which BNR hotels of the Indian Railways, located at Puri and Ranchi, were first transferred to the IRCTC and later, for its operations, maintenance and upkeep, it was given on lease to Sujata Hotel Private Limited, which is based in Patna, Bihar.
It is stated that the tender process was rigged and manipulated and the conditions were tweaked to help the private party – Sujata Hotels.
It also claimed that on February 25, 2005, Vinay Kochhar sold commercial property in the form of three acres of land in Patna through 10 sale deeds for Rs. 1.47 crore to Delight Marketing, in which Sarla Gupta was a director as a front benami holder on behalf of Prasad.
During 2010 and 2014, this land was further transferred, the CBI alleged.
In 2001, it was decided to hand over the management of catering services of the Indian Railways, including of its hotels, to the IRCTC. Two such hotels — BNR Hotels in Ranchi and Puri — were also identified and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed among the railways and the IRCTC on March 19, 2004.
As per FIR filed by the CBI, Lalu Yadav, the then railway minister, entered into criminal conspiracy with the owner of Sujata hotels, Sarla Gupta, the wife of his close associate Prem Chand Gupta, an Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP in the Rajya Sabha, and IRCTC officials for “undue pecuniary advantage to himself and others”.
The probe agency also alleged that BNR hotels were transferred to Sujata Hotels through a “rigged and manipulated” tender process managed by PK Goyal, the then managing director of the IRCTC.
The CBI inquiry confirms that the railways sought bids for developing, operating and maintaining Rail Ratna Hotels on September 16, 2006. The probe agency has claimed that Lalu Yadav was aware of the whole process and was keeping a track of the tender proceedings.
It surfaced that while over 15 bid documents were provided for both the hotels, the IRCTC had no records of bidders other than Sujata Hotels.
It was also stated that with an intention to render undue pecuniary gains to Sujata Hotels, the bid of another hotel was deliberately and unreasonably given low marks under technical evaluation.
“As an outcome, Sujata Hotels remained the only bidder in the financial evaluation and was qualified,” the CBI had alleged, adding that after the tender was awarded to Sujata Hotels, the ownership of Delight Marketing also changed hands from Sarla Gupta to Rabri Devi and Tejashwi Yadav between 2010 and 2014.
By this time, Lalu Yadav had expelled the office of railway minister.
He became Bihar’s chief minister in 1990 but had to resign in 1997 following corruption charges in the multi-crore rupees fodder scam. From 1997 to 2005 his wife Rabri ruled as the chief minister of the state and was replaced by JD(U) president Nitish Kumar.
Lalu Yadav also worked as Union Railways minister from 2004 to 2009.
The RJD again came back to power after forging an alliance with its bitter rival Janata Dal (United), headed by Nitish Kumar in 2015, and Tejashwi Yadav became the deputy chief minister.
However, Nitish Kumar parted ways from the RJD in July last year marking the end of Tejashwi Yadav’s tenure.
Based on the CBI case, the Enforcement Directorate also lodged a case of money laundering against Lalu Yadav, Rabri Devi, Tejashwi Yadav, and others.