Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) president Shibu Soren and his family did not declare several of their properties in affidavits filed with the Election Commission (EC) and thus are likely to have flouted the Representation of the People Act, 1951. They also seem to have violated the Chotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act under which an Adivasi person in the state cannot buy land in areas other than where they live. These are the findings of the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) preliminary enquiry (PE) report on properties allegedly amassed by the Rajya Sabha MP and his family, including his son and incumbent Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren.
The CBI started the inquiry following a Lokpal of India order dated September 15, 2020. It was based on a complaint filed on August 5 that year. The CBI submitted the final PE report on June 29. But earlier this week, the Delhi High Court imposed a three-month stay on the ombudsman’s proceedings. Soren moved the High Court court after the Lokpal on August 4 said that “looking at the gravity of the allegations” it was of the view that proceedings “should be initiated in order to determine whether there exists a prima facie case” against Soren.
Setting the date for the next hearing on September 12, the Lokpal said, “Therefore we direct that a notice may be issued to the public servant and his family members under Section 20(3) for giving him an opportunity of being heard either in person or through authorised representatives on August 25, 2022, at 11.30 am.”
Back in 2020, the complainant had urged the Lokpal to investigate “57 properties” in Ranchi, Dhanbad, Dumka, and other places that Soren, a former Jharkhand CM, and his family members obtained through “unscrupulous and corrupt means”. Apart from the JMM founder and his wife Roopi, the others in the family under the scanner are Jama MLA Sita Soren, who is the wife of Soren’s late son Durga; Hemant and wife Kalpana; and youngest son Basant and daughter-in-law.
A six-member Lokpal headed by chairperson Justice (retired) Pinaki Chandra Ghose said in its 2020 order, “Upon perusal of the facts of the case we may direct the Director CBI to have record of the case. A copy whereof is sent to herewith for his perusal to make a preliminary inquiry into the matter u/s 20(1)(a) of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 and submit the report of such PE before the Lokpal of India within six weeks from the date of receipt of this order i.e before or on 6/11/2020.”
After various extensions — the CBI had sought the Income Tax Department’s help to gather details — the central agency filed a PE report on July 1, 2021, listing 82 properties allegedly linked to the Sorens. Of these, Shibu Soren allegedly obtained 18 between 1992 and 2012. The agency sought the JMM president’s comments on the value and nature of the acquisitions, the construction cost, and the source of the funds for these properties. The agency sent a letter to Soren the same day, enclosing the list of the 82 properties.
‘Politically motivated’ complaint
On Monday, the High Court granted the stay on the Lokpal’s proceedings based on a plea Soren filed on September 9. The MP told the court that the complaint against him and his family was “ex-facie bad in law” and “politically motivated”.
According to the petition, the MP, in a letter to the investigating agency on July 10, 2021, claimed, “At the outset, please note that I am not concerned with all the 82 properties mentioned … hence, I am unable to comment on all these properties. I am 77 years old and suffer from geriatric diseases … I need reasonable time of at least 60 days from date (July 10) to submit my comments.”
In a letter to the Lokpal, dated April 1, Soren had mentioned two issues based on which the ombudsman should discontinue its proceedings and asked for the complaint to be quashed.
Soren said he received the original complaint — with the name of the complainant and his or her address redacted, as per rules — and the Lokpal’s order to the CBI to initiate a probe only on March 1. The JMM leader said his comments had been sought on July 1, 2021, which is “beyond the statutory period” and therefore without any authority in law. The CBI submitted the final PE report on June 29, about one-and-a-half years after the expiry of the 180-day period for the completion of the preliminary enquiry.
In a letter to the CBI, dated April 1, Soren said the JMM had acquired two properties (serial numbers 1 and 2) and he merely executed the sale deed on behalf of his party. The JMM president added that property (in serial number 3) was acquired through his agricultural income and Rs 48,000 in savings. He added that two properties belonged to his wife, one to his son and one was his ancestral property. He refrained from commenting on the rest, claiming they do not belong to him.
“…Even as PE report submitted by CBI enclosing a list of 82 properties, none of the properties attributed to be owned by the Petitioner (MP Soren) or any other individual mentioned in the report, have been acquired within the seven years preceding the filing of the complaint,” read the plea Soren’s lawyers filed in the High Court.
It added, “The dates of alleged acquisitions of the properties by petitioner (Shibu Soren) range from the years 1990 till 2009 and the latest alleged acquisition is of 20.7.2009 which would show that the alleged offence…is hopelessly barred by limitation and beyond the jurisdiction of Lokpal under section 53 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 which statutory bars the Lokpal (Respondent) from inquiring and investigating ‘into any complaint, if the complaint is made after the expiry of a period 7 years from the date on which the offence mentioned in the complaint is alleged to have been committed’. The respondent number 2 who lodged a complaint with Lokayukta on August 5 by filing a false, frivolous, and vexatious complaint is liable for prosecution and payment of compensation.”
Details of preliminary enquiry
In the PE report, the CBI said Soren and his wife were “interested parties” in 18 properties allegedly acquired between 1992 and 2012. “The (Two) properties mentioned … are in the name of Rupee Soren, wife of Shibu Soren. Hence these properties are attributed to Shibu Soren. The properties (two) … allegedly purchased in 1992 are in the name of Hemant Soren and family/brothers. However, Hemant Soren, born in 1975, was a minor at that time (1992). Hence both these properties are attributed to Shibu Soren … Inquiry has revealed two more properties connected to Shibu Soren … a plot for Hotel in Bokaro in the name of Rupee Devi and … a plot for school in Bokaro in the name of M/s Dishom Guru Shibu Soren Education and Welfare Society … It is also worth noticing here that not declaring the properties (six) … in his affidavit before EC, Shibu Soreen appears to have violated section 33A read with 125 A of the Representation of People’s Act (the penalty for filing false affidavit).”
The agency said 33 properties in which Hemant and Kalpana Soren were the “interested parties” had been allegedly acquired between 2002 and 2009. The PE report also alleged that the incumbent CM did not declare 23 properties in his affidavit to the EC, which “seems to be in violation of RPA”.
The PE report said, “Inquiry revealed properties (two) purchased in 1992 (by Shibu Soren in Hemant, Durga and Basant Soren’s name) under provisions of CNT Act. Hemant Soren was shown a native of Ranchi, however, the (15 other) properties mentioned…(in) Govindpur, Dhanbad…(and four other properties in) Tenughat, Bokaro are purchased under the provisions of CNT Act showing himself (Soren) as a resident of these places as required under CNT Act … As per the norms of CNT Act, only a tribal who is native of the same police station area can purchase a tribal land …The same appears to be in violation of the norms of CNT Act which necessitates detailed inquiry/investigation by the appropriate agency.”
On Sita Soren, the CBI held that she and her family members were the “interested parties” in 17 properties allegedly acquired between 1990 and 2009. Of these, 10 were not declared in her EC affidavit, which is again seemingly in violation of the RPA, the agency said, adding that there “appears to be” violation of norms of CNT Act in her case too.
The CBI report said Basant, the MLA of Dumka and a native of Nemra village in Ramgarh district like Hemant, and his wife were interested parties in 12 properties allegedly acquired between 2005 and June 2020. Of these, the MLA and JMM youth leader did not declare two properties in his EC affidavit, the agency added. Five properties were purchased in what appears to be a violation of the CNT Act, the probe report said.
The agency said Basant and Sita Soren had also sent in their comments on the allegations against them but the CM had not yet responded.