Ministers stuck in Ranchi, files piling up, how Jharkhand political drama is hurting governance

Ministers stuck in Ranchi, files piling up, how Jharkhand political drama is hurting governance

Ministers & civil servants say reverberations of developments in 'office of profit' case against CM Soren & governor's silence on matter are being felt in govt’s daily affairs.

The scene outside Raj Bhawan in Ranchi Thursday | ANI

The scene outside Raj Bhawan in Ranchi Thursday | ANI

Ranchi: Political uncertainty in Jharkhand, owing to delay on the part of Governor Ramesh Bais in communicating whether a decision had been made to disqualify Chief Minister Hemant Soren as MLA on an ‘office of profit’ charge, has adversely affected governance, ThePrint has learnt.

Decisions on a host of day-to-day issues, along with important meetings related to the functioning of key ministries, are pending. Moreover, with ministers unable to leave state capital Ranchi, the inauguration of a slew of projects and plans for laying foundation stones have been postponed.

Reverberations of developments in the case against Soren are being felt in the government’s daily affairs ever since the Election Commission of India (ECI) conveyed its opinion on the matter to Bais in a sealed envelope on 25 August, ministers and civil servants ThePrint spoke to said.

“Decision-making has slowed down. In government, all files have to come to the minister for approval. But with ministers not going to their offices regularly since 25 August, files have piled up…they are not getting signed on time, delaying approval,” said Jharkhand Finance Minister Rameshwar Oraon.

But Oraon insisted that basic functioning of the government remains unaffected. “There is a lot of work in the government that is carried out in an auto-pilot mode. For instance, collection of revenue does not get affected in any way because of the absence of a minister,” he explained. 

State Rural Development Minister Alamgir Alam said that while governance took a hit in the initial three-four days, things are now getting back on track: “The CM chaired a review meeting with deputy development commissioners of all 24 districts of Jharkhand Thursday where various rural development programmes including ensuring 75 days of work in rural areas were discussed.” 

Jharkhand Drinking Water and Sanitation Minister Mithilesh Kumar Thakur said it is a “given” that, with uncertainty prevailing, both administrative as well as development work has “slowed down”.

“On 26 and 27 August, I had to inaugurate a multipurpose townhall and lay the foundation stone of some road projects in my constituency Garhwa. But it had to be postponed because we were directed not to leave the capital,” he added.

Those in the bureaucracy pointed out that, on the face of it, the government is functioning, with Soren launching programmes and holding cabinet meetings, but that does not mean governance hasn’t taken a hit.

“There has been a general sense of inertia in governance since May when the ECI sent a notice to the CM in the ‘office of profit’ case. But over the last week, it has intensified,” a senior government official, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint.

Another senior government official, narrating how a file related to the procurement of some items for the health department was delayed, said: “Because of the prevailing situation, there was a delay in approving the file. There are similar instances related to approvals in other ministries as well.”

A secretary in another department said files that require the approval of ministers have been piling up in almost all ministries. “Only crucial files are getting signed. But in government, approval is needed for hundreds of other day-to-day administrative things. With files pending, decision-making across the government takes a hit.” 

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‘BJP trying hard to pull down democratically elected govt’

The ‘office of profit’ case against CM Soren involves a petition filed before governor Bais on 11 February by leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including former chief minister Raghubar Das.

In the petition, the BJP leaders sought Soren’s disqualification as an MLA of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) on grounds that he allegedly allotted a mining lease to himself in 2021, when he was also heading the state mining department. Soren has since surrendered the mining lease. 

Bais referred the matter to the EC and sought its opinion on the matter. 

The EC, in a notice to Soren asking him to respond to the charges, had said that it found Soren’s actions to be a prima facie violation of Section 9A of the Representation of the People Act.

Earlier this month, the EC sent its opinion on Soren’s disqualification to Bais in a sealed envelope. The governor’s silence on the issue has since kept the JMM-led alliance in Jharkhand on tenterhooks. 

The chief minister has held more than four meetings with MLAs of the ruling coalition to chalk out a strategy to deal with the eventuality of his disqualification. In between, Soren and his ministers also found time to accompany legislators on an outing in the adjoining Khunti district. 

Fearing that the opposition BJP might attempt an ‘Operation Lotus’ in Jharkhand, Soren moved four ministers and over three dozen of the 49 MLAs of the ruling alliance to Raipur in Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh on 30 August.

Ministers have since returned to Ranchi and even attended a cabinet meeting chaired by Soren Thursday afternoon where a host of proposals — including hiring a chartered plane for a whole month starting 31 August to fly VIPs and VVIPs out of the state on official tour at a cost of Rs 2.6 crore (according to a press note issued by the CM’s office) — were approved.

However, while ministers of the Soren government have returned to Ranchi, the MLAs are still holed up in a resort in Raipur.

Asked who is to blame for this impasse, Jharkhand Minister Mithilesh Kumar Thakur pointed the finger at the “governor’s silence”.

“And, the BJP is trying hard to pull down a democratically elected government,” he added.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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