The Supreme Court on Monday held that the two public interest litigations seeking an investigation by the Enforcement Directorate against Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren in cases related to irregularities in mining leases and shell companies are not maintainable, reported Live Law.
With the ruling, a bench of Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia set aside the Jharkhand High Court order holding that the PILs are maintainable.
The first plea is related to the stone mining lease granted by Soren to himself in 2021. He surrendered the lease on February 4. In the second plea, the petitioner had alleged that Soren and his family members have stored unaccounted money in shell companies.
The Jharkhand government and the chief minister had moved the Supreme Court after the High Court accepted documents against Soren produced in a sealed cover.
At the hearing, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the state government, said that the High Court had looked into the merits of the case despite the Supreme Court’s order to consider maintainability of the PILs first. Sibal also submitted that the Enforcement Directorate had produced the materials in a sealed cover even though there was no incriminating evidence against Soren.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing Soren, said that the High Court was not prima facie satisfied with the PILs.
Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the Enforcement Directorate, argued the petitions that raise serious matters of criminal activities should not be set aside on technical grounds.
Both the pleas were filed by Right To Information activist Shiv Kumar Sharma, who had sought directions to disqualify Soren – who handles the mining department – from the state Assembly.
The matter has also become a point of standoff between Soren and the Jharkhand unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has sought the chief minister’s removal on the grounds that he allotted a mining lease in his own name while holding the mining portfolio.
Media reports had said in August that the Election Commission has recommended Bais disqualify Soren as an MLA. However, the recommendation was not made public and the governor did not take any action.
On October 27, Bais said that he had sought a “second opinion” on whether to disqualify Soren as an MLA. He claimed that an “atom bomb could explode any time in Jharkhand”, in an apparent reference to his pending decision in the matter.
If the governor announces Soren’s disqualification, he will have to resign as an MLA. Soren, however, can get re-elected within six months. He can also continue as the chief minister if legislators of the ruling United Progressive Alliance name him as the leader of the coalition.
On Sunday, Soren said that he has asked the Election Commission for a copy of Bais’ request for a second opinion in the office-of-profit case against him.