Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren appeared before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in Ranchi on Thursday in connection with an alleged mining lease case. Before leaving for the ED’s regional office, Mr. Soren charged that the probe “is a larger conspiracy by the BJP to destabilise his government in the State”.
At the time of filing this report, Mr. Soren had been questioned for over six hours. Large number of supportiers and workers of the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha gathered outside Mr. Soren’s official residence in protest of the probe against the Chief Minister, and were addressed by State Ministers and other JMM leaders.
In the neighboring state of Bihar, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav said, “It all [that is, summons and raids on non-BJP leaders] will continue till 2024. Everyone is watching what is happening with Mr Hemant Soren”.
Earlier, before leaving for the ED’s regional office, Mr. Soren addressed media persons and asserted that allegations made against him were “baseless”.
“I’m the Chief Minister and I hold a constitutional post. But the way I’m being summoned, it feels like I’ll be fleeing the country. In fact, I don’t think apart from businessmen, any of the political leaders [of the country] have fled the country,” said Mr. Soren, flashing a copy of the letter he had sent to the ED in response to his summons in the alleged mining lease case.
“I’m shocked, how can such a huge allegation can be brought against a Chief Minister so lightly?” he asked. “The aggregate royalty income from stone mining in the entire State for the last two years has been around ₹750 crore. How come you claim a scam of ₹1,000 crore?” asked Mr. Soren in the letter. “The ED is expected to carry out its investigation in a fair and impartial manner without any hidden agenda or motive. I’ve taken an oath to uphold the constitution and the Rule of Law and in order to discharge my duties as an honest citizen of this country, I shall attend at your office today in compliance with the summons issued for me,” he added in the letter.
The Chief Minister also attacked Jharkhand Governor Ramesh Bais, who accused him of “protecting the parties engaged in conspiratorial politics”. He further expressed his disapproval about Mr. Bais’ statement about his pending decision on the political crisis in the State. Earlier, the Jharkhand Governor had said that he had sought a “second opinion” over the Election Commission’s recommendation letter, allegedly to disqualify Mr Soren’s membership from the State Assembly in connection with an alleged stone mining scam.
Meanwhile, security at the regional ED office in Ranchi was beefed up and prohibitory orders under section 144 were clamped at certain place en-route to the ED office to avoid any untoward incident by protesting JMM supporters. Barricades were put up on roads leading to the office, with Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and other central security forces deployed outside.
The ED had summoned Mr. Soren in connection with a ₹1,000 crore mining lease scam of Sahibganj district in which three persons have already been arrested: Pankaj Mishra (a close aide of Mr. Soren’s), Prem Prakash and a Kolkata based businessman Amit Agrawal. During their interrogations, they allegedly gave their connection with the Jharkhand Chief Minister.
Mr. Soren had earlier been summoned to appear before the ED on November 4, but he skipped his appearance citing official schedules. Later, he also dared the ED to “arrest him instead of sending summons for questioning”. However, the ED sent him a summons for the second time to appear before the agency on November 17.