Ranchi: The Election Commission of India (ECI) Tuesday gave Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren ten days’ time till 20 May to respond to its notice seeking an explanation on why he shouldn’t be disqualified from the assembly for allegedly issuing a mining licence to himself while holding the mines portfolio.
On 9 May, Soren had sought time from the ECI to respond to the notice on the grounds that his mother was unwell and undergoing treatment in Hyderabad.
“We have received a communication from ECI sometime back. They have given time till 20 May to the CM to respond to the ECI’s notice,” Jharkhand Mukti Morcha general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya told ThePrint.
The matter relates to a petition filed by opposition BJP leaders, including former CM Raghubar Das and BJP Legislature Party leader Babulal Marandi, before Jharkhand Governor Ramesh Bais on 11 February, seeking Soren’s disqualification as MLA and removal as chief minister over the mining lease issue.
The governor had referred the matter to the ECI, which sent a notice to Soren on 2 May, seeking a response to charges that he had “entered into a mining lease agreement on 23 November 2021 with the government of Jharkhand through district mining officer, Ranchi”.
The ECI in its notice said that Soren’s action prima facie violates Section 9A of The Representation of People (RP) Act, 1951, which deals with disqualification for government contracts.
It had sought Soren’s response by 10 May to charges that he had a mining lease issued to himself for a stone chips quarry on government land while holding the mines portfolio.
The notice to Soren has put a question mark on the future of the JMM-Congress-RJD coalition government headed by JMM leader Soren.
The BJP in their petition had leveled serious corruption charges against Soren and sought his disqualification for violating the RP Act which states that a person can be disqualified for entering into a government contract for supply of goods to or for the execution of any work undertaken by the government.
“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 ruling JMM has taken a stand that past Supreme Court judgements have held that mining lease is not a business of supply of goods or for the execution of inverse undertaken by the government and hence does not qualify for disqualification.
Earlier, Soren in an affidavit submitted to Jharkhand High Court, in a similar petition filed by a BJP leader, said that after the mining lease was renewed last year, he did not obtain the consent to operate it and applied to surrender the lease even before starting extraction on 4 February this year. The application had been accepted.
(Edited by Monami Gogoi)