EC commences hearing of mining lease case against Soren, BJP seeks Jharkhand CM’s disqualification

The legal counsel for the BJP on Tuesday sought before the Election Commission disqualification of Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren as an MLA over a mining lease case, asserting he violated a provision of the election law by extending himself a favour with regard to a government contract while in office. Former Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das of the BJP has accused Soren of “misusing his post” to get “in-principle approval” for a stone quarrying lease in his name in Ranchi district despite holding the mining portfolio, an apparent instance of corruption and conflict of interest.

The Election Commission of India had in May sent a notice to Soren seeking his comments on the issue.

It has been alleged that owning the lease violated Section 9A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which deals with “Disqualification for Government contracts, etc.”

Soren’s legal team, however, maintained that Section 9A of the the Representation of the People Act does not apply to the case and cited a Supreme Court ruling.

Initiating the arguments before the Election Commission, which works as a quasi-judicial body in such cases, the BJP — the petitioner — contended Soren deserved to be disqualified because he as the chief minister gave himself a lease under his signature.

Briefing reporters about the arguments put forth by the BJP, one of its counsel Kumar Harsh said it is a case for disqualification and involves corruption.

Following a reference from the Jharkhand governor, the EC had in May issued a notice to Soren under Section 9A of the Representation of the People Act which deals with the disqualification of a lawmaker for government contracts.

“A person shall be disqualified if, and for so long as, there subsists a contract entered into by him in the course of his trade or business with the appropriate government for the supply of goods to, or for the execution of any works undertaken by, that government,” the section states.

According to Kumar Harsh, Soren’s side sought more time to conclude the arguments.

“Expressing displeasure, the Commission asked them to begin arguments. They argued their stand for barely two minutes and again sought time,” he said.

His claim was, however, rejected by S K Mendiratta, one of the legal representatives of Soren.

Mendiratta has served with the Election Commission for more than 50 years.

“We did not seek time. We said they took two hours, so we would also like to take two or two-and-a-half hours. They (EC) said we will hear your side on the next date,” Mendiratta told reporters.

He said the respondent (Soren) is of the view that it is a decision of the Supreme Court that in such cases Section 9A is not applicable. “EC will have to decide …They said it is a case for disqualification. But we said 9A does not apply,” he asserted.

The poll panel would later communicate the next date of hearing in the case. Soren was earlier granted two extensions by the EC to commence hearing.

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