SC relief to Jharkhand CM Soren, sets aside court order in mining case
A three-judge bench headed by CCJI UU Lalit said: “It was not proper for the high court to entertain a PIL which is based on mere allegations and half-baked truth, that too at the hands of a person who has not been able to fully satisfy his credentials and has come to the Court with unclean hands.”
Courts cannot become a forum to order investigations on mere allegations of misdeeds against high constitutional authorities, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday as it blocked hearings on two public interest litigations (PILs) seeking probes against Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren being heard by the Jharkhand high court.
Setting aside a June 3 order of the high court holding the two PILs to be maintainable, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Uday Umesh Lalit said: “It was not proper for the high court to entertain a PIL which is based on mere allegations and half-baked truth, that too at the hands of a person who has not been able to fully satisfy his credentials and has come to the Court with unclean hands.”
Not wanting to be seen as stopping any attempt to question the misdeeds of persons in high offices, the bench, also comprising justices S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia, said: “We are not for a moment saying that people who occupy high offices should not be investigated, but for a high court to take cognisance of the matter on these generalised submissions which do not even make prima facie satisfaction of the Court, is nothing but an abuse of the process of the Court.”
The two PILs before the high court were filed by Shiv Shankar Sharma. In his first petition, he levelled allegations of money laundering against Soren, accusing him of laundering money through a network of over 28 shell companies. On this, the court noticed that the petition did not make the alleged companies as parties, leaving it to the court to order a probe by the Enforcement Directorate.
This matter was brought to the Supreme Court by Soren and the Jharkhand government after the ED, without having any case registered, produced sealed cover reports to the Jharkhand high court, alleging that there was an element of truth in the allegations levelled by Sharma’s PIL.
The top court said: “If the petitioner has a genuine reason to pursue the matter, he has his remedies available under the Companies Act or under other provisions of the law where he can apprise the relevant authorities of the misdeeds of the Directors or Promotors of the companies. But on generalized averments which are nothing but mere allegations at this stage, the Court cannot become a forum to investigate the alleged acts of misdeeds against high constitutional authorities.”
The second PIL by Sharma accused Soren of misusing his office to get a mining lease issued in his favour while he held the portfolio of mines in the state. Since this matter is pending consideration before the Election Commission, which is examining whether such action would entitle his disqualification as chief minister, the bench felt that the issue being raised in PIL was an abuse of the process of this court.
Even otherwise, Soren argued that the mining lease in question was surrendered by him prior to filing of the PIL. The mining lease was made in favour of Soren in Angadha Mauza. In 2018, the 10-year lease for the mining area expired. In June 2018, Soren moved an application for renewal of lease. Later, fresh pleas for lease were invited and a letter of intent was issued in favour of Soren on June 16, 2021. But on February 4, he wrote to the district mining officer, Ranchi, to surrender the lease with immediate effect.
“Short of making wild and sweeping allegations, there is nothing placed before the Court which in any way may be called to be prima facie evidence,” the top court said. “Allegations of corruption and siphoning of money from shell companies are nothing but a bald allegation, without substantiating the allegations in any manner whatsoever....The petitioner has actually sought an investigation by the Court... this in our view, is again an abuse of the process of this Court.”