EC takes up Jharkhand CM ‘office of profit case’, sets next date for July 14
The chief minister was to appear before EC last month, but his party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), sought postponement of the hearing on May 31 citing the Rajya Sabha polls on June 10
The Election Commission (EC) of India on Tuesday heard the “office of profit case” against Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren under the Representation of People Act, and set the next date of hearing for July 14, people familiar with the matter said.
“The parties were represented by the advocates,” a people said, asking not to be named. “The case has been partly heard and the next date for hearing has been set for July 14.”
The chief minister was to appear before EC last month, but his party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), sought postponement of the hearing on May 31 citing the Rajya Sabha polls on June 10.
EC asked Soren to appear on June 28 and place his arguments as to why he should not be disqualified under Section 9A of the Representation of People (RP) Act of 1951 for holding a mining lease over a plot of land in Angara block of Ranchi, which translates into holding an “office of profit” while being a member of the legislative assembly.
“A person shall be disqualified if, and for so long as, there subsists a contract entered into by him in the course of his trade or business with the appropriate government for the supply of goods to, or for the execution of any works undertaken by, that government,” the section states. A disqualification for Soren would put him in a precarious position with respect to the CM’s post.
The matter pertains to a stone chips mining lease Soren was given on the outskirts of Ranchi in 2021, with the mines and environment department headed by him giving a nod to his application.
Soren has denied all the allegations in a letter to the EC. “At the outset, I deny and dispute all allegations of the BJP about my alleged disqualification for being a member of the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly on the ground of a mining lease, obtained by me in May 2021, under the said section 9A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, or any other ground whatsoever,” he wrote.
On a reference from the Jharkhand governor based on complaint from the state opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, the EC on May 2 issued notice to Soren, with a deadline to reply by May 10. Soren, however, filed a petition seeking more time, citing the ill-health of his mother who is under treatment in Hyderabad, and asked for four weeks to reply to the notice. EC, however, granted him 10 days, fixing May 20 as deadline to respond to the notice.
The chief minister filed his reply on May 20 and requested the poll watchdog to grant him an opportunity to put forth his defence in person.
Last week, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey wrote to the Comptroller Auditor General (CAG) Girish Chandra Murmu regarding the representation being provided to Soren. “In the ongoing PILs in Hon’ble High Court, Ranchi and disqualification case in ECI, there is no private lawyer engaged by Shri Hemant Soren and his associates. State government hired the service of Shri Kapil Sibal, Shri Mukul Rohatgi and Pallavi Langar to defend these individuals,” Dubery said in his letter, asking why taxpayers’ money was being spent to defend him.