Minister in eastern Indian state fired hours after issuing fake graduate degrees

A minister in the often-lawless eastern Indian state of Bihar was fired within hours of being sworn in after authorities realized he currently faces criminal charges for issuing fake graduate degrees, the state's top official said Friday. A court charged Jitan Ram Manjhi with issuing fake degrees to students in government-run institutes in 1997 when he was the state's education minister, forcing him to resign and later quit from then-ruling party Rashtriya Janata Dal, or RJD.

Manjhi's new party, Janata Dal (United), replaced the RJD earlier this month, and he was named to the Cabinet on Thursday. He was forced out hours later, before he could be given a portfolio, new state leader Nitish Kumar said. "I found that Manjhi was an accused in the fake degrees scam, so I dropped him from the Cabinet," Kumar said.

He did not explain how party officials failed to note Manjhi's legal problems before appointing him, considering that charges stem from his last turn in power. Manjhi's trial on the 1997 charges has yet to begin. Indian courts are notorious for delays, especially in cases involving top liticians.

Bihar is considered one of the most impoverished and corrupt states in India, and its top officials have long been dogged by corruption charges. The head of the RJD, Laloo Yadav, was forced out as the state's top elected official in 1997 because of bribery charges, and his barely literate wife, Rabri Devi, took over and ruled for seven years. In April, he and 68 others were charged with allegedly siphoning off 960 million rupees (US$22 million; Ђ17 million) in government funds meant for purchasing cattle fodder. The fraud allegedly took place in 1996. However, he has managed to remain India's railway minister because the RJD is a powerful block in the country's coalition government, led by the Congress party and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, reports the AP. N.U.

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