Ranchi: Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, acting on the basis of a two-year-old PIL filed in the Jharkhand High Court, has ordered the state Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to investigate assets held by five ministers in the previous Raghubar Das-led government (2014-2019) of the BJP.
The move comes at a time when Soren, president of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), is facing heat from the opposition in an alleged mining scam worth Rs 150 crore. Soren is also embroiled in an “office-of-profit” controversy over allegedly issuing a mining licence to himself last year — which the JMM defends as “an administrative error” that was eventually corrected.
An ACB official told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity: “The file related to these investigations (ordered by the CM) has not reached us yet. So, it would not be possible to say anything on this issue.”
Explaining the investigation process of the ACB, he added: “After the CM’s order, the matter will go to the Cabinet’s Monitoring Committee. Once the committee gives its approval, the file will reach the ACB. The bureau will then begin a preliminary probe into the matter.”
In an official release on 31 May, the Jharkhand government said CM Soren had ordered an inquiry against Amar Kumar Bauri, Neera Yadav, Neelkanth Singh Munda, Randhir Singh and Louis Marandi, who were all ministers in the government of Raghubar Das.
It added that the action was ordered on the basis of a PIL — filed by former journalist and RTI activist Pankaj Yadav — that alleged these ministers owned disproportionate assets.
Former CM Das as well as the leaders named in the PIL have denied the allegations, and accused the Soren government of “political malice”.
BJP MLA from Khunti, Neelkanth Munda, told ThePrint: “I have provided complete details of my assets to the Election Commission. I have also submitted the same in court. I have nothing to hide. Right now, it would not be appropriate for me to make further comments.”
Similarly, Marandi, former Dumka MLA who was defeated by Soren in the 2019 state election, said: “Both you and I can clearly understand why such an order has been issued after a delay of more than two years. The CM and his aides are feeling under pressure themselves. In such a sticky situation, this dirty tactic has been adopted to divert the attention of the public.”
BJP’s Chandankiyari MLA Amar Bauri said the “CM has been stung by the serious charges of corruption levelled against him and his government and is acting out of political malice”.
“If there is an iota of morality left in him, then he should order an ACB investigation into the entire five-year tenure of the previous government, as well as the two-and-a-half years of his own government.”
Bauri also issued a press release alleging that “Soren’s assets were worth Rs 3.50 crore in 2014, which ballooned up 245 per cent to reach Rs 8.5 crore in 2019. How did this mammoth increase take place in his assets? There should be an investigation in this matter too”.
Former CM Das, criticising the move by the Soren government, alleged that “he (Hemant Soren) has taken this step after getting embroiled in the mine allocation scam and all other corruption cases against his government”. “This is nothing but an act of barking up the wrong tree in desperation,” he said.
JMM’s Giridih MLA Sudivya Kumar Sonu, however, said “the ACB investigation has nothing to do with the ED raids”.
“Functioning of the entire Jharkhand government was badly affected in the last two years due to Covid. Now the government is back on track. This ACB probe order is part of routine work,” he told ThePrint.
‘Enough to make a watertight case’
In 2020, activist Yadav filed the PIL in the Jharkhand High Court seeking an investigation into properties held by five ministers in the Das government.
In the petition, he requested that the matter be investigated by the ACB, and included as parties the departments headed by the five ministers — education, sports, land revenue, tourism, agriculture and cooperation, women and child development, and social welfare — as well as the ACB and Income Tax Office.
According to the petition, in 2014, Bauri declared assets of Rs 7.33 lakh, then of Rs 89.41 lakh in 2019. Similarly, Randhir Singh was said to possess assets worth Rs 78.92 lakh in 2014, which rose to Rs 5.06 crore in 2019. Neera Yadav’s assets were allegedly valued at Rs 80.59 lakh in 2014, and assessed at Rs 3.65 crore in 2019.
Marandi’s total wealth was Rs 2.25 crore in 2014, and Rs 9.06 crore in 2019, the PIL said. Neelkanth Munda’s assets, valued at Rs 1.46 crore in 2014, ballooned to Rs 4.35 crore in 2019, it added.
The PIL said there had been a 200-1,100 per cent increase in the assets of all these former ministers. However, all this information was submitted by these leaders on their own while filing affidavits during election time.
Yadav told ThePrint: “Suppose that the monthly salary of a minister would be Rs 1 lakh. Even in that case, after five years, his assets should grow by just Rs 60 lakh. But there has been an 1,100 per cent increase in the assets of former minister Amar Bauri between the (election) affidavits filed in 2014 and in 2019. Obviously, all this increased only during his tenure as a minister.”
He added: “I am not denying that the state government has ordered an ACB probe only after the (recent) ED raids against it, but I trust the courts more than the investigating agencies. All the corruption will surely be exposed.”
Yadav further said he would provide all the necessary documents to the ACB, “which will be enough to make this case watertight”. He also assured to provide the probe agency with “CAG reports of the corruption that took place in the departments of the ministers concerned in five years”.
On Yadav “trusting the courts more than investigating agencies”, JMM’s Sonu said: “As far as the apprehension raised by petitioner Pankaj Yadav towards probe agencies is concerned, I respect that. Given the way the investigative agencies are functioning, this can be assumed true. But I can assure there will be a completely fair investigation under our government.”
A similar case of disproportionate assets was registered against Bandhu Tirkey, who was education minister in the Madhu Koda-led government in Jharkhand (2006-2008). Investigations revealed a 126 per cent increase in his assets. In March, he was convicted, a judgment that led to his disqualification as an MLA.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)