The Supreme Court Wednesday restrained the Jharkhand High Court from proceeding with PILs seeking a probe against Chief Minister Hemant Soren who has been accused of granting himself a mining lease as the state’s mining minister.
A bench of Justices U U Lalit, S R Bhat, and Sudhanshu Dhulia reserved its judgement on separate pleas of the Jharkhand government and Soren against an order of the high court that accepted the maintainability of the PIL.
“Heard counsel for the parties. Order reserved. Since this court is now seized of the matter, the high court shall not proceed with the pending petitions,” the bench said.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the state government, submitted that the high court had decided on maintainability even before all the documents were placed before it.
“I have to say this in open court, milords, I am sorry. Where is the occasion in the matter that you are holding the court outside the state and hearing the matter? What is the urgency? Sibal stated.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Soren, questioned the credentials of the PIL petitioner.
Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the Enforcement Directorate, said criminal petitions should not be thrown out on technical grounds.
BJP national vice president and former Jharkhand chief minister Raghubar Das had in February this year claimed Soren abused his position and granted himself the favour of a mining lease, an issue involving both the conflict of interest and corruption.
He also alleged violations of provisions of the Representation of People Act.
Taking cognisance of the controversy, the Election Commission of India (ECI) sent a notice to Soren in May seeking his version on the mining lease issued in his favour when he holds the Mining and Environment portfolios.
Owning a lease violates Section 9A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which deals with Disqualification for Government contracts, etc, EC sources had said. The issue is still pending with the EC.
The plea before the Jharkhand High Court had sought a probe into alleged irregularities in the grant of mining lease as also the transactions of some shell companies allegedly linked to the chief minister’s family members and associates.
On June 3, the high court had said it was of the considered opinion that writ petitions cannot be thrown away on the ground of maintainability and it will proceed to hear the matters on merit.
In its order, a division bench of the high court had said, “This court, after having answered the issue, as framed by this court, and on the basis of discussions made hereinabove, is summing up its view and is of the considered opinion that the writ petitions cannot be thrown away on the ground of maintainability.” On May 24, the apex court had asked the high court to first hear the preliminary objections to the maintainability of the PIL seeking a probe. It had passed the May 24 order on a petition filed by the state against two high court orders in the matter.
It had noted that three PILs have been filed before the high court seeking an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) into the allegations of corruption, misuse of office, and money laundering against Soren.
Both Soren and his Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) have denied the allegations.