Hemant Soren Vs ED: Will Case Registered Against Agency Under SC/ST Act Stand in Court

Hemant Soren filed a case against ED officials, accusing them of wrongdoings.
Hemant Soren Vs ED: Will Case Registered Against Agency Under SC/ST Act Stand in Court

Ranchi: Jharkhand experienced a day of intense political upheaval on January 30, with the Enforcement Directorate (ED) detaining Chief Minister Hemant Soren on allegations land scam and money laundering. With Soren is in ED custody and put under house arrest, Transport Minister Champai Soren has been named as his successor.

After his arrest, the chief minister went to the Governor with the ED team and submitted his resignation. “Champai Soren will be the new chief minister. We have enough numbers,” Soren-led Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MP Mahua Maji told The Mooknayak in a brief conversation over phone.

However, the Governor has not yet invited the party and its alliance partners to form the new government.

The probe under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act against Soren is related to the ownership of a piece of land measuring 7.16 acres in Bajra area of Ranchi. The central agency has alleged that the land was acquired through proceeds of crime involving the illegal sale of Army land.

Fourteen people have been arrested by the ED in connection with the case. They also include an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, Chhavi Ranjan, who has served as the director of the state’s social welfare department, the deputy commissioner of Ranchi, Bhanu Pratap Prasad, and businessmen Bishnu Agrawal and Amit Agrawal.

Amidst this turmoil, Soren, feeling aggrieved by the ED's actions, took a decisive step before resigning. He filed a case against ED officials, challenging the validity of their actions. This move has added another layer of complexity to an already tumultuous situation in the state.

On Soren's complaint, which accused them of multiple violations of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the Jharkhand Police has registered a First Information Report (FIR) against four ED officials, including the agency’s Additional Director Kapil Raj, under Section 3 (1) (p), (r), (s) and (u) of the law – which, on conviction, are punishable with a minimum jail term of six months and a maximum of five years.

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The provisions relate to instituting false, malicious or vexatious suit or criminal proceedings against ST members, intentionally insulting or intimidating with intent to humiliate ST members in any place within public view, abusing any member of ST by caste name in any place within public view and attempting to promote feelings of enmity against ST members by words spoken or written or by any visible representation.

In the FIR, which has been reviewed by The Mooknayak, Soren has alleged ED officials carried out an operation Shanti Niketan and Jharkhand Bhawan to “harass and defame him and his community since he belongs to a Scheduled Tribe tribal community and the officials are non-tribal”.

“The search operation was conducted without intimating me, and this has disgraced him in the eyes of the general public,” alleges the FIR.

The ED carried out the search operation at Jharkhand Bhawan in Delhi and at a house rented in Delhi by the state government on January 29.

Soren also alleged the ED officials named in his complaint did not bother to inform him about the search operation but briefed the media about it to create a public narrative and cause “disrepute” to him in the eyes of the general public.

Explaining the legalities surrounding the registration of the FIR against the agency officials, Advocate Shadab Ansari of the Jharkhand High Court said if the investigation by the ED against a leader is politically motivated and is without any fact or concrete allegations, the relevant sections under the SC/ST act will be applicable.

Asked the allegation of political motivation can be an assumption to create a counter narrative, he responded, “All probing agencies always claim that they have evidence against the accused they are investigating against. But the determination and the veracity of allegations rest firmly within the domain of the judiciary. When allegations are made against individuals or entities, including political leaders, it is ultimately the responsibility of courts to assess the material brought on record by the prosecutors and make informed judgments.”

The judiciary, he said, acts as an impartial arbiter, tasked with carefully scrutinizing the evidence put forth by the prosecution.

Soren has dismissed the case as “politically motivated” and said details of his assets are in the public domain.

With regard to potential political implications of this case and whether individuals might leverage the precedent set by it to protect their reputation, Ansari said, “Corruption exists to varying degrees within most of the political parties. It suggests that thorough scrutiny of any political entity is likely to uncover instances of some misconduct or wrongdoing. Consequently, investigations into political parties, often viewed as politically motivated, may nevertheless yield substantive evidence.”

He added, “If the ED were to employ the same investigative approach and scrutiny when examining members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it does with other political parties, it is likely that numerous individuals within the saffron party would also be booked on various charges.”

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