What the Jharkhand High Court said about ED’s charges against Hemant Soren

The high court's order knocks the bottom of the Enforcement Directorate’s case against the former chief minister

Hemant Soren at his ancestral village Nemara in Ramgarh district on 5 May (photo: PTI)
Hemant Soren at his ancestral village Nemara in Ramgarh district on 5 May (photo: PTI)

AJ Prabal

The bail order given by Justice Rongon Mukhopadhyay of the Jharkhand High Court, setting former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren free after five months in prison, is significant. Not only does the order clearly state that there are reasons to believe in Soren’s innocence but it also uses the ED’s own arguments to knock the bottom of its case against the former chief minister.

The ED had charged Soren of ignoring eight of the 10 summons it had sent him. It claimed that Soren was in unauthorised possession of an eight-acre plot of land in the heart of Ranchi, the state capital, since 2010. It accused the former chief minister of being part of a cartel manipulating and forging revenue records to forcibly occupy land and that the ED’s “timely action” had prevented the accused of transferring the plot of land to his own name.

The high court’s order points out that if the accused was in possession of the land since 2010, when he was admittedly not in power or the government, it is difficult to believe how ED’s timely action prevented the possession and transfer of the land.

Pointing out ED’s submission that it had recovered 11 trunks full of property documents, revenue records and registers from the residence of Bhanu Pratap Prasad, a revenue sub-inspector, Baragain, one of the key accused who was allegedly working at the behest of Soren, the court enquired why in that case none of the records and the documents bore the names of Hemant Soren or his family members.

Referring to the ED’s claim that it had retrieved the plan and design of a proposed banquet hall from the mobile phone of one Binod Singh, who was said to be close to Hemant Soren, the court observed that it was far-fetched to infer that the design had been prepared for the former chief minister’s use.

Even the designer firm, Grid Consultants, had not named Soren, it pointed out. What is more, the ED’s inference that the banquet hall was to come up on the plot said to be in illegal possession of Soren because there was no other plot as large in the vicinity, was thin on evidence, the court felt.

On the disputed land allegedly in the possession of Soren, the ED claimed to have found a boundary wall and a room inside with an electric meter allotted to one Heliriyas Kachchap. One Raj Kumar Pahan, the court observed, had produced a registered deed dating from 2015 claiming ownership of the land.

Alleging that the Bhuinhari land, which cannot be sold under the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, was fraudulently transferred to others, Pahan had filed a case for restoration and the revenue court had restored possession to him in January, 2024. The order was not challenged and has acquired finality since then.

The court also observed that in all these years, the sudden appearance of several sticky notes fixed on files with leading words like ‘C.M., Urgent’ , ‘Mantri’ etc. in the files of Bhanu Pratap Prasad’s during his tenure and not earlier was reason to suspect that Soren had been deliberately framed.

The court agreed with the Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, appearing for the ED, that it was for the trial court to test the evidence on record. However, on the facts of the case and the evidence produced, he felt that Soen deserved to be released on bail. Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal and Meenakshi Arora appeared for Soren.

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