Thursday, August 11, 2011

Former Chief minister of Sikkim Nar Bahadur Bhandari starts jail stint in Gangtok hospital

Gangtok, Aug. 10: Nar Bahadur Bhandari today arrived at the CBI court in a convoy of 21 vehicles to surrender before a special judge but was hospitalised after an hour-long stint in jail.

The three-term former chief minister of Sikkim went out of the court in a Sikkim police car for the mandatory health checkup before being sent to the Rongey jail. But by 4.15pm, he was back in STNM Hospital with complaints of chest pain.

The 70-year-old Bhandari had been sentenced to one month in jail and fined Rs 5,000 by Sikkim High Court in a 27-year-old graft case.

Yesterday, acting Chief Justice S.P. Wangdi upheld the verdict of a CBI court that had found Bhandari guilty of defalcating funds in a rural water supply scheme of 1984.

The judge, however, commuted the six-month jail sentence passed by the trial court in 2008 to a month. Bhandari had been asked by the high court to surrender before the special judge (Prevention of Corruption Act) today.

At 11am, a sombre Bhandari arrived at the district and sessions court at Sichey. The court premises were abuzz with anticipation since morning with lawyers and the general public milling around for a sight Bhandari who had been a three-term chief minister from 1979.

The Sikkim Pradesh Congress chief arrived in his red SUV with another 20 vehicles carrying his followers. The mood was sober with no slogans being shouted. Bhandari was greeted by all as he walked into the CBI court. He stood there without speaking a word for about two hours and 10 minutes while the proceedings took place. State Congress vice-president Kunga Nima Lepcha had accompanied him.

Two hours later, Bhandari boarded a white Maruti Gypsy of the Sikkim police to be taken to the STNM Hospital for the mandatory medical checkup. The check-up was completed and the police set off for the state jail at Rongey, 11km from here, at 3.15pm.

Sources in the jail said Bhandari, after completing the paperwork there, complained of chest pains and was brought back to STNM Hospital in another hour. He has been admitted to Cabin 1 of the cardiology ward of the hospital.

While doctors refused to say anything about Bhandari’s health, sources close to him said the former chief minister had been admitted to hospital twice in the past with cardiac problems.

Sources in the jail said two guards would be posted outside the cabin at all times. “We will allow two visitors at a time during visiting hours and he will be allowed home-cooked food,” a jail source said.

Yesterday, Bhandari had said he would not move the Supreme Court against the sentence. He had said he would go to jail “for Sikkim and the Sikkimese people”.

Sources in his party had said yesterday that Bhandari would make the “best of the situation” at the time of his surrender and try to get “as much publicity as possible to gain the sympathy of the people”.

Today, while leaving the district and sessions court, Bhandari said he was being convicted for a scheme for the success of which the Centre had once lauded him.

“I had promised the people of Sikkim that I would do away with their namlos (ropes used to carry water pots), and I have done that by implementing the rural water supply scheme in the state. I was also awarded by the Centre for the success of the scheme. I am now going to jail for the same scheme. I am going to prison for the people of Sikkim. What will happen after I serve out my term will only be known then,” Bhandari said.

Yesterday, however, he had hinted that he might leave the Congress and float a regional party. He had said he was upset with the Congress high command in Delhi because it had done nothing to rein in the CBI, which prosecuted him.

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