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Jharkhand’s CM Soren has invited serious allegations of misuse of office that do disservice to his office and state

There can be little doubt that Hemant Soren has severely undermined his position as Jharkhand CM. His party and his allies need to decide on the cost of standing by him.

Hemant Soren disqualification, Jharkhand Government, Hemant Soren, Election Commission, Indian express, Opinion, Editorial, Current AffairsJharkhand boasts of 40 per cent of India’s mineral reserves and nearly 30 per cent of the country’s coal deposits. But the state’s record in the governance of these resources has been marred by frequent scams and political instability.

The future of the Jharkhand government hangs in balance after the Election Commission recommended the disqualification of Chief Minister Hemant Soren as MLA under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, last week. The EC has found Soren guilty of misusing his position to allot a stone mining lease to himself last year. Governor Ramesh Bais is yet to take a call on the issue. But the episode could trigger political instability again in a state that has had 11 governments, and three spells of President’s rule, in 22 years. Jharkhand’s largest Opposition party, the BJP, has sharpened its criticism of the state government, while the JMM-led ruling coalition is taking conspicuous steps to keep its flock together — the CM has held marathon meetings and even taken legislators on a bus and boat ride out of Ranchi. This uncertainty could have been avoided had CM Soren, who also holds charge of the mining ministry and the related portfolios of geology and environment, adhered to fundamental norms of political propriety. Conflict of interest was writ large in the award of the mining lease in question.

Jharkhand boasts of 40 per cent of India’s mineral reserves and nearly 30 per cent of the country’s coal deposits. But the state’s record in the governance of these resources has been marred by frequent scams and political instability. In 2017, in a case that had shone unflattering light on the collusion between entrenched mining oligarchies and state agencies, a special CBI court convicted former Chief Minister Madhu Koda for irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks between 2006-2008. Soren came to office in 2019 on the back of a “Badlav Yatra” (campaign for change) during which he promised a pro-people administration in Jharkhand. His government has constituted a task force to investigate issues related to illegal mining and the CM has repeatedly called for urgency in cleaning up the “bad image” given to the state by “the mining mafia”. Plans to install CCTV cameras in mining areas and start a toll-free number to receive mining-related complaints are reportedly on the state government’s anvil.

But the Jharkhand government’s responses to allegations of nepotism against the CM have been far removed from its slogans and claims. For instance, the BJP has accused the state’s industry department — also headed by the CM — of handing out an 11-acre plot in Ranchi industrial complex to a firm headed by Soren’s wife. The department has brazened out allegations of the misuse of the CM’s office with the unconvincing answer that no rule was broken in the land allocation. In the mining lease case too, it’s clear that red lines were transgressed. The CM’s defence that he surrendered the lease is unpersuasive. There can be little doubt that Hemant Soren has severely undermined his position as Jharkhand CM. His party and his allies need to decide on the cost of standing by him.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 29, 2022, under the title, ‘On shaky ground’.

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First published on: 29-08-2022 at 04:29 IST
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