Updated: April 26, 2022 6:11:56 am
Jharkhand’s Advocate General Rajiv Ranjan on Friday addressed a press conference to “set things on the record” about a disproportionate assets case filed against Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s family in the state High Court. Ranjan accused the petitioner’s lawyer of making misleading statements about court proceedings, following which a few regional newspapers and channels claimed that an “Enforcement Directorate inquiry” had been ordered against Soren. This, the senior government lawyer said, was false.
The episode underscored an image problem plaguing the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led coalition government in the state, especially Soren — that corruption seems to have increased. People in the ruling alliance said things had not gone smoothly for Soren in the last year-and-a-half. In September 2020, the Lokpal of India directed the CBI to conduct a preliminary inquiry into a complaint of disproportionate assets against JMM co-founder and the CM’s father, Shibu Soren, and his family members. The details of the investigation are not in the public domain.
“After the second Covid-19 wave, the situation deteriorated. This government thinks that it may get thrown out of power at any time. Therefore, development has taken a hit despite various policy-level interventions. Then, there is a perception, which is also true in many areas, that corruption has increased and has somewhat reduced his (Soren’s) political capital,” said an insider in the ruling coalition.
But a source said the JMM leadership was most irritated about the chief minister acquiring a minor mineral lease in his name while holding the mining and environment portfolio. The matter was brought to the fore by former Chief Minister Raghubar Das of the BJP two months ago. Das released documents showing Soren had obtained a lease for 0.88 acre in the Angara block of Ranchi and Ranchi’s District Mining Office issued a Letter of Intent on June 16, 2021.
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Earlier this month, the High Court issued notice to the CM, saying that “a serious matter” had been raised by petitioner Shiv Shankar Sharma. The BJP has submitted a memorandum to Governor Ramesh Bais, seeking the chief minister’s disqualification. The Election Commission (EC) has also written to the chief secretary, seeking documents on the lease so that it could formulate an opinion under Article 192 of the Constitution, which deals with the disqualification of legislators.
“Now this is something very foolish that CM Soren did. He applied for a land lease for mining and after the Letter of Intent was issued, he also applied for environment clearance. Why will a CM want a mine, that too in his own name? This speaks so much about his awareness of any situation and the people surrounding him for advice,” said a JMM functionary.
During a hearing on April 8, the day the poll panel wrote to the government, Rajiv Ranjan told the High Court that the state had committed “a mistake” and the lease had since been surrendered. However, the court has sought a detailed affidavit.
The chief minister already carries the burden of his father’s history. Shibu Soren, a four-time MP, accepted before an Income Tax Appellate Tribunal that it had taken Rs 1 crore from the Congress in 1993 to save the PV Narasimha Rao government “in national interest”. The JMM leader claimed that the money was not “a bribe” but was for the “welfare of the people of Jharkhand”. This came to be known as the “famed JMM case”.
A party insider, however, claimed that for the CM to find himself embroiled in such a case was “nothing new” and that he had developed a thick skin to survive the BJP’s continuous attacks on his family.
“Here everything seems motivated. In 2013, a similar allegation was levelled against the family in the form of a PIL, but the court rejected it stating that the petitioners had not approached any authority and filed the PIL only after Soren became the CM then,” said the JMM leader. “So more than the matter itself, it is basically how it is handled by the leaders surrounding Hemant Soren.”
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