Updated: May 7, 2022 11:10:37 pm
Stating that his act of obtaining a mine lease “does not entail his disqualification as an MLA”, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren in an affidavit before the Jharkhand High Court said that the petition has been “caused” to “destabilise the democratically elected government”. This is for the first time that the chief minister has come on record to explain his stand in the mining lease controversy, in which he has been served a notice by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
A petition was filed in February by Shiv Shankar Sharma on granting of stone chips mining lease to Soren in Ranchi last year. The petitioner had approached the high court for an “appropriate direction to prosecute the chief minister”, saying Soren had “misused his office” in getting the mining lease in his own name. Soren holds the mining and environment portfolio.
A bench of Chief Justice Ravi Ranjan and Justice Sujit Narayan Prasad while hearing the matter for the first time April 8 had said that it was “a serious matter” and had issued a notice to Soren.
In an affidavit filed before the court Friday, Soren said: “I am advised to state that my act of obtaining a mining lease does not entail my disqualification as a member of the Legislative Assembly under any law and I reserve my rights to make further submissions in law on this aspect at the time of hearing…The writ petition has been filed out of personal animosity and at the behest of my political rivals with the ulterior motive and malafide intent maligning me and destabilising the government of which I am the chief minister.”
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The chief minister added that a mere comparison of the allegations contained in the petition submitted by the BJP and the allegations made in the present writ petition would show that “both are similar and the handiwork of the same person”. “It is obvious that the controlling mind behind the petition to the governor and the present writ petition filed before the court is the same,” Soren said.
On April 8, the Election Commission of India had written to the Jharkhand government, seeking documents pertaining to a mining lease granted to CM Soren to “formulate its opinion” under Article 192 of the Constitution, which deals with disqualification of members of Assembly. Soren obtained a lease of 0.88 acre in Angara block of Ranchi and a letter of intent was issued by Ranchi’s District Mining Office on June 16, 2021.
Article 192 deals with “decision on questions” related to disqualification of Assembly members and operates only when the Governor seeks opinion from the poll panel with respect to Article 191, which states the ground for disqualification such as for holding office for profit, being in an unsound mind, under 10th Schedule, or under any law of Parliament. The governor had sought the Election Commission’s opinion after a few BJP leaders had written to the governor seeking to disqualify Soren. A notice was sent to Soren recently by the EC to explain his position on the issue.
Clearing the air around the mining lease, Hemant Soren said: “The mining lease was granted to me for a period of 10 years on May 17, 2008. I had applied for renewal of this lease in 2018 but the application lapsed. When the DC of the district (Ranchi) invited a fresh application for the said mining lease sometime in 2021, I applied to his office. The lease was granted and I duly prescribed the procedure. Consent to Operate of the subject mining lease was not obtained and on February 4, I had applied for surrender of the subject lease before commencing any extraction.”
On the petitioner Sharma, Soren said that the petitioner and his family harbour “personal enmity” towards his family for more than two decades and his petition is devoid of any public interest. “The petitioner’s father Dr Gautam Sharma had testified as a witness for the prosecution in a case seeking to falsely implicate my father Shibu Soren. My father’s conviction was reversed…The grudge which Sharma held against my father is being pursued by his son who is the petitioner. I say that the present petition is filed solely out of the personal enmity…to settle personal scores and for oblique motives at the instance of my political rivals and not with any public interest at heart,” Soren added.
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