The Supreme Court on Wednesday put a stay on proceedings in the Jharkhand High Court against Chief Minister Hemant Soren in two pleas accusing him of money laundering and irregularities in mining leases and shell companies, Bar and Bench reported.

A bench of Justices UU Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia reserved its order on a plea filed by Soren and the state government against the Jharkhand High Court, which had upheld the maintainability of the petitions filed by Right To Information activist Shiv Kumar Sharma.

Sharma has sought inquiries against Soren by the Central Bureau Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate.

His first plea is related to a stone mining lease granted by Soren to himself in 2021. He surrendered the lease on February 4. In the second plea, the petitioner has alleged that Soren and his family members have stored unaccounted money in shell companies.

Sharma has also sought directions to disqualify Soren – who handles the mining department – from the state Assembly.

On June 3, the Jharkhand High Court had said that the two pleas against Soren are maintainable.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court took objection to the public interest litigation filed by Sharma to initiate Enforcement Directorate proceedings against Soren in the absence of a scheduled offence which refers to a separate criminal offence, Bar and Bench reported.

Under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the Enforcement Directorate can file a complaint only to investigate the allegations of fraudulent proceeds of crime. However, these proceeds have to be linked to a separate criminal offence committed by the accused person.

“There is something more fundamental about this,” the Supreme Court said. “Entire agency’s wherewithal is with you for probe. No one would have thought a PIL would be to way to address the lacuna of machinery. Not what parliament intended.”

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Jharkhand government, argued how the Enforcement Directorate submitted to the High Court documents in a sealed cover without there being any incriminating evidence against Soren, Live Law reported.

On May 13, the High Court had accepted these documents after which the Jharkhand government had moved the Supreme Court.

Sibal also said that the petitioner did not file a first information report and directly approached the High Court. He also pointed that the High Court had been hearing the matter on priority by scheduling proceedings even on Saturdays.

Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, representing the Enforcement Directorate, argued that criminal petitions cannot be dismissed on grounds of technicalities.

“Any petition which shows corruption cannot be thrown out on technicalities,” Raju said. “Technicality should not come in the way.”

Raju added that the central agency could not have started the investigation without a predicate or schedule offence or without the directions of the High Court, Bar and Bench reported.

After hearing the arguments, the Supreme Court said that the High Court can entertain public interest litigations based on solid evidence and not mere suspicion.

“Our judicial discipline will go haywire,” the bench added. “We can’t register PILs on mere suspicions like this.”

The court then reserved its verdict in the matter.