Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren gets EC notice on disqualification for holding mine lease

The Election Commission of India has asked Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren why he should not be disqualified under the Representation of People Act, 1951, for having a mining lease in his name. The EC notice served on Monday gave Soren time till next Tuesday to explain why action should not be taken against him under Section 9A of the RPA, ET has learnt.

The poll panel has said that the notice was sent after a reference from the governor, following representations to him from BJP MLAs in Jharkhand on the issue. The EC said that the state chief secretary had confirmed facts on ownership of the mining lease in his reply to the poll panel. Accordingly, the CM has been asked to explain why he should not be disqualified.

A stone quarry mining lease for 0.88 acres in Angara block of Ranchi district was issued in June 2021 by the District Mining Department to Hemant Soren. Governor Ramesh Bais recently referred the matter to EC under Article 192 of the Constitution. The provision authorises the governor to decided on disqualification of an elected member based on EC’s advice.

ET was the first to report EC was examining the governors’ reference under Section 9A of RPA, 1951, which attracts disqualification for legislators on grounds of owning government contracts, etc. The provision says that 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 terms of contract with the state government as part of the mining lease license allocated to Soren in June 2021 were studied under the same clause. Excavation of mines and minerals are leased by the government and typically involve revenue sharing which are mostly read as ‘contracts’.

A battery of lawyers areready for a defence before EC and the Jharkhand high court, which is hearing the matter. At EC, the exercise may also involve a hearing before it takes a final view on the matter and sends the same to the governor. A PIL has been filed on the matter in the HC, which alleges misuse of office apart, this was also a case of ‘office of profit’ and disqualification must be initiated against the sitting CM on both counts.

The state government has argued in court that the mining lease was erroneously granted to the CM and was surrendered, but the HC issued a notice on April 8. BJP leaders, including former chief minister Raghubar Das, had made representations to the governor on the matter. Complaints allege that in September 2021, the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority granted environmental clearance to Soren for mining at Angara Stone deposit, as seen in the authority’s minutes and as per a PIL filed in February in the HC. The district mining office approved the progressive mine closure plan for the same in July 2021. Soren held the portfolio of mines and environment during the period when the agencies under the departments approved the mining proposal.

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