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Jharkhand stone quarry case: How a sitting CM approved mining licence for himself, granted forest & environment clearances to himself

On the 11th of February, a day after former CM Raghubar Das's allegations, Soren surrendered the lease. However, in April, Das made further allegations against the Jharkhand chief minister, alleging that Soren had given his wife 11 acres of property in Ranchi's industrial zone. Soren is also the head of the state's industry department.

The Election Commission has granted Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren a final opportunity to appear before it in the quarry lease allotment matter after he claimed the absence of his lawyer on Tuesday. The personal hearing, at which Soren was to appear in person or through his lawyer, was scheduled at 3 PM on Tuesday (June 14). A new date of June 28 has been set, with the caveat that it will be the last chance for such a hearing.

On February 10, a Bharatiya Janata Party delegation led by former Chief Minister Raghubar Das presented a memorandum bringing the issue of leasing a quarry to CM Hemant Soren to the notice of the Raj Bhavan.

According to the memorandum, Soren had breached Section 9A of the Representation of the Peoples Act 1951 by abusing the power of his office. The poll commission had issued a notice to Soren in May under Section 9A of the Representation of the People Act, which deals with a lawmaker’s disqualification for government contracts.

What is the case about?

The case involves a stone quarry mining lease granted to Hemant Soren by the District Mining Department in June 2021 for 0.88 acres of land in Ranchi’s Angara block. Former Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das presented a bundle of documents accusing Soren of “misusing his post” to obtain “in-principle approval” for a stone quarrying licence in Ranchi district under his name last year during a news conference he held in February.

Das alleged violations of the Representation of the People Act and said the action would result in prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption Act, which would include additional similar offences, by pointing to the Mining Department papers that issued the lease.

According to an Indian Express story, Soren applied for a mining licence for granite-gneiss rocks known as ‘construction stones’ spanning an area of 0.88 acres (0.356 hectares) in Ranchi’s Angara block, as per papers uploaded on the Centre’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change website.

The mine’s predicted life was 5 years, and the projected rate of production was 6,171 tonnes per year. The estimated project cost was Rs 26 lakh, and the advised plan duration was 5 years.

Unravelling the case

Ranchi District Mining Officer (DMO) received Hemant Soren’s application for a mining lease on May 28, 2021. The DMO sought inspections from the Angara Circle Officer on June 1st. The Angara gramme panchayat convened on June 7 to give their approval for the mining. The DMO was told on the same day by the Angara Block Development Officer that the panchayat had confirmed the mining lease.

Following that, a land leasing letter was signed. The Ranchi DMO indicated in a letter dated June 16, 2021, that the Ranchi Deputy Commissioner had issued a Letter of Intent providing ‘in-principle approval’ for the mining licence with a few corrections in an order dated June 15, 2021. Soren sought environmental approval for the aforementioned mining on September 9, and the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority granted clearance by September 22.

It’s worth noting that Soren himself is in charge of both crucial portfolios – forest, environment, and climate change, as well as mining and geology.

On the 11th of February, a day after former CM Raghubar Das’s allegations, Soren surrendered the lease. However, in April, Das made further allegations against the Jharkhand chief minister, alleging that Soren had given his wife 11 acres of property in Ranchi’s industrial zone. Soren is also the head of the state’s industry department.

The Soren family and cases against them

the Soren family has been a part of several controversies earlier too. Shibu Soren, Hemant Soren’s father, who is presently a member of the Rajya Sabha was one of the four Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) members of parliament accused of taking money to back the PV Narsimha Rao-led minority Congress government in 1993. All the MPs, interestingly, escaped court examination due to parliamentary privilege under Article 105 (2) of the Indian Constitution.

Shibu Soren was disqualified from serving in the Rajya Sabha in 2002 for holding a profit-making office while chairman of the Jharkhand Area Autonomous Council. Again, Shibu Soren, then a Union minister, was condemned to life in prison in 2006 for his role in the kidnapping and murder of his private secretary Shashi Nath Jha in 1994.

Hemant Soren’s brother Basant Soren has also been named as a respondent in the current mining lease case.

Response of Hemant Soren

However, at the hearing of a case brought against him on this subject on April 8, Advocate General Rajiv Ranjan stated that the state made a “mistake” in awarding the lease. The AG stated that it was a “violation of the Code of Conduct,” but there was no legislative or constitutional violation “even if” Soren was involved in some companies while holding the post of Minister of Mines.

Soren “has disassociated himself from it subsequently on 11.02.2022 by surrendering the lease,” said AG Ranjan. The court, though, recognised the gravity of the situation and issued summons to Soren and the state to produce an affidavit. There have been no more hearings in the case.

According to JMM spokeswoman Supriyo Bhattacharya, Soren received a “renewal” of his mining licence, and the leased land (0.88 acres) was declared in various affidavits to the ECI as recently as January 2019.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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