The Supreme Court on Monday refused to entertain a petition filed by Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren against the summons issued to him by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with an alleged Illegal mining case, asking the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader to approach the jurisdictional high court first.
“Why don’t you go to the high court? We can’t entertain it here directly. You go to the high court,” a bench justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi told Soren’s lawyer, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi.
While Rohatgi said that ED proceedings against his client was a “witch-hunt” and that he could adduced the evidence to prove it, the bench said that the summons had to be challenged before the Jharkhand high court at the first instance.
Rohatgi, on his part, added that he has also challenged the constitutional validity of sections 50 and 63 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), which were presently pending adjudication before the apex court in a separate clutch of matters.
Sections 50 and 63 arm the agency with vast powers to secure statements or confessions of persons during interrogation, use it against them during trial, and even launch criminal proceedings for giving false information.
Objecting to Rohatgi’s submissions, additional solicitor general SV Raju, representing the federal agency, said that the impugned ED provisions have already been upheld by the Supreme Court in Vijay Madanlal Chaudhary batch of cases in July 2022.
The bench, however, declined to go into the issue, saying: “We think everything should start at the high court…not here.” It then proceeded to record in its order that Soren’s plea has been dismissed as withdrawn.
On Sunday, the agency issued fresh summons, asking Soren to appear on September 23.
Earlier, the ED had summoned Soren to appear before it on September 18, but the CM did not appear on that day since the case was listed before the top court on the same day.
The court had to push the hearing to September 18 since Rohatgi remained indisposed to argue last Friday.
In November last year, Soren appeared before the ED in connection with an alleged illegal mining case in which his aide Pankaj Mishra is also an accused and is currently in judicial custody.
The summons issued to Soren on Sunday was the fifth summons in less than three months.
In a letter to the ED on August 14, he termed the agency action as a “political conspiracy to destabilise a democratically elected government”. The letter had stated that he was called to record a statement in respect of the properties ‘owned, possessed and occupied’ by him.
In his petition before the Supreme Court, Soren argued that aid that all efforts are being made by Centre to threaten, humiliate and intimidate political leaders, at a time when opposition parties have united to form the INDIA coalition.
The summons to him, the plea stated, are meant to coerce and harass him and destabilize an elected democratic government ahead of the approaching general elections.
Soren challenged the summons issued to him on August 7 followed by another one on August 18 in his petition filed on August 23.
Subsequently, the ED issued summons asking the Jharkhand CM to come for questioning, but Soren refused to appear citing official engagement and the pending challenge to the ED proceedings in the top court.
“With the general elections approaching soon in next 7-8 months, the political atmosphere in the country has been vitiated by the ruling regime. All efforts have been made to threaten, humiliate and intimidate the political leaders, and particularly, when the opposition has united to form INDIA alliance in which petitioner and his party are vocal participant and integral part of alliance and who are not aligned with the national democratic alliance (NDA)”, Soren had stated.
Soren and JMM are vocal participants and integral part of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, in short INDIA alliance, comprising 28 Opposition parties to unite forces against the ruling NDA led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre.
The ED is currently investigating more than a dozen land deals, including one related to defence land, where a group of mafia, middlemen and bureaucrats allegedly colluded to forge deeds and documents as long back as 1932.
The agency had in July last year arrested Soren’s aide Pankaj Mishra, who was a central committee member of JMM.