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Jharkhand HC to hear maintainability of PIL seeking probe against CM on June 1


RANCHI: Jharkhand High Court Tuesday said it will hear the PIL seeking probe against Chief Minister Hemant Soren for alleged irregularities in the grant of mining lease and transaction of some shell companies purportedly operated by his associates on the point of its maintainability following the Supreme Court's direction.

A division of bench of Chief Justice Ravi Ranjan and Justice Sujit Narayan Prasad while hearing the PIL filed by a person Shiv Shankar Sharma were apprised of the Supreme Court order that the petition should first be heard on the point of maintainability.

The Apex Court heard the matter earlier in the day and directed Jharkhand HC to decide on the maintainability of the petition first.

The HC adjourned the matter and said it will hear it again on June 1.

Kapil Sibal, the counsel for the state government, had earlier informed the HC that the government has challenged the PIL in Supreme Court.

A vacation bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Bela M Trivedi of the Supreme Court noted that the high court had in its order of May 13 said it would first decide the maintainability of the PIL and then go into the merit of the allegations levelled in the petition.

"We are of the considered view that the high court would first deal with the preliminary objections on the maintainability of the writ petition and based on the outcome it would then proceed further in accordance with law", the bench said.

The top court also made it clear that it has not made any observation with regard to the merit of the case and has not dealt with the allegations made in the petition The Jharkhand government has moved the top court against the orders of the high court.

The public interest litigation had stated that Hemant Soren had a mining license issued in his favour while holding the office of the chief minister of the state.

It also said that Pooja Singhal, the mining department secretary who is in enforcement directorate remand had floated shell companies to launder money.

The HC had earlier ordered Soren to file an affidavit to explain his stand in the matter.

The affidavit filed by the government was signed by Ranchi deputy commissioner Chhavi Ranjan.

Ranjan apparently is an accused in a corruption case prosecuted by the Anti Corruption Bureau.

The HC was opposed to an accused filing an affidavit as it is contrary to the rules and had ordered Ranjan to file an affidavit to explain and inform the status of the case against him pending before a vigilance court.

Ranjan is accused of felling five teak wood trees in the official bunglow while he was posted as the deputy commissioner of Koderma.

In the hearing at the apex court advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Jharkhand government, said that the PIL petitioner has suppressed material facts that he has filed several PILs against Soren.

He referred to the rules of Jharkhand HC on PILs of 2010 and said that Sharma's petition should not have been entertained by the High Court as there was no full disclosure of previous litigations.

Instead the HC has ordered to implead the registrar of companies, ministry of corporate affairs, as respondents.

Sibal said that on May 17 the Enforcement Directorate had filed an affidavit in a sealed cover in the PIL.

"The question is can some extraneous material be brought in a sealed cover of some other case not related to the PIL be brought before the court. Can the High Court look into it," he said.

The bench said that the HC, even if it holds that the petitioner is not bonafide, can take suo motu cognizance of the matter.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for ED and Ministry of Corporate Affairs, said that there are some observations made but an affidavit has been filed by the ED as during a raid in connection with some other FIRs registered in 2012 it had come in possession of some material, which is the subject matter of the PIL.

He said that notices were issued to the ED and CBI and therefore they were before the HC and referred to recoveries made in raids against Singhal, who was the state mining secretary at the time.

“The raids were conducted by the ED in connection with 15 FIRs lodged in 2012 in connection with diversions of funds in the MGNREGA scheme in Khunti district, whose deputy commissioner was Singhal at the time.

"During these raids, we found some material which was in connection with the grant of mining leases and transfer of funds to shell companies mentioned in the PIL", Mehta said.