The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the proceedings pending before the Jharkhand High Court in PILs seeking probe against Chief Minister Hemant Soren over allegations of irregularities in allotting mining leases, and money laundering through shell companies.
A bench presided by Justice U U Lalit also reserved its verdict on petitions by the state government and Soren, challenging the HC upholding the maintainability of the PILs. “Order reserved. Since the court is seized of the matter, the HC shall not proceed further with the writ petitions,” it ordered.
Appearing for the state government, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal sought to question the credentials of petitioner Shiv Shankar Sharma. The state had earlier contended that Sharma had an axe to grind as his father too had given evidence against Soren’s father Shibu Soren in a murder case.
Sibal said that on the first date of hearing in HC, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the ED handed over a sealed cover which was perused by the court despite his objections. He said there was no predicate offence and asked how the ED had come into the picture without that. The ED was also bound to inform the state government the progress in the probe as per the PMLA, but this was not done, he argued.
The bench, also comprising Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia, pointed out that one of the charges against Soren was that he allotted a mining lease to himself. Sibal said it was pending before the EC.
Soren’s counsel Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi said the PIL was filed “because of enmity between our families. The grudge Mr Sharma had against my father is being continued by his son”.
Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, appearing for the ED, submitted that PILs should not be thrown out merely on technical grounds. Technicality should not come in the way, he said, adding that credentials of petitioner are irrelevant when there’s an offence. The question is whether an offence is made out prima facie or not, he contended.
To a query from the bench as to what material did the ED possess to initiate the proceedings, Raju pointed out that 16 FIRs with regard to MGNREGA fund embezzlement between 2010 and 2012 was the predicate offence.
The bench said it is not not stopping the ED from doing anything which is permissible but wants to know “whether a citizen can come up with allegations which are not substantiated? Can process be initiated based on that?”