RANCHI: Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren Tuesday sought a four-week extension from the Election Commission to reply to its notice over charges that he issued a mining lease in the state in his favour, but the poll panel gave him 10 days.
The EC had sought Soren's response after it had received a representation that he was allegedly misusing the office of chief minister and therefore he should be disqualified as a member of the assembly.
Soren has rejected the charges. The EC had issued the notice to Soren on May 2 asking him to reply by May 10, but the JMM leader had sought four more weeks, citing his mother's ill health among other reasons.
"I have sought at least four weeks' extension of time from the EC for submission of my detailed reply to its notice," Soren told PTI earlier in the day.
However, sources in the national capital said the poll panel gave him 10 days.
Soren said he had also requested the EC to be given the opportunity of personal hearing by the Commission "through my legal counsel before it formulates its opinion in the matter for tendering it to the Governor of Jharkhand under Article 192(2) of the Constitution of India".
The poll panel has received a representation from Jharkhand Governor Ramesh Bais on the issue of "misuse" of office by the chief minister and will send its opinion to him.
If the charges are proven, Soren may stand disqualified as a member of the state assembly.
"I deny and dispute all allegations of the BJP about my alleged disqualification for being a member of the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly on the ground of a mining lease, obtained by me in May 2021, under Section 9A of the Representation of People Act, 1951 or any other ground whatsoever and deny all allegations by BJP that I had misused my office to obtain mining lease," Soren said in the letter to EC.
Section 9A of the Representation of the People Act deals with disqualification of a lawmaker for a government contract.
In the letter to the EC, Soren said his 67-year-old mother is critically ill for about eight months and had to be airlifted on April 28, 2022 from Ranchi to Hyderabad for better medical treatment.
He said he has not been able to engage a suitable legal counsel as he was in Hyderabad, except for a short period when he attended the Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on April 30.
"She is presently under treatment in the ICU of AIG Hospital at Hyderabad. In order to ensure her proper medical treatment, I have also been presently, more or less, compelled to stay in Hyderabad. In the above circumstances, I have not been able to engage suitable legal counsel to present my defence effectively before the Commission in a matter which so vitally effects my future political career and social life," he said in the letter sent on May 5.
He wrote again to the EC on May 9 requesting it "to communicate its acceptance for my prayer for extension of time and oblige".
"I further submit that I would like to be afforded opportunity of personal hearing by the Hon'ble Commission through my legal counsel before the Hon'ble Commission formulates its opinion in the matter for tendering it to the Hon'ble Governor of Jharkhand under Article 192(2) of the Constitution of India." Last week, Soren had told the Jharkhand High Court that his political rivals are behind a public interest litigation over the issue of granting mining lease to him to destabilise his democratically elected government in the state.
In his affidavit in the High Court, the CM has accepted he was granted a lease for mining stones on 0.88 acres in Angarha block in Ranchi district, but said the contents of the PIL are akin to the letters and statements made by BJP accusing him of misusing his office of chief minister.
He also claimed that he has not derived any profit or gain from the mining lease while he has been the chief minister of the state since 2019 and no mining activity has been carried out in the land as the consent for it has not yet been granted by the Ranchi deputy commissioner.
The granting of the mining lease cannot be a reason for the disqualification of membership from the Assembly and the PIL should be dismissed with exemplary costs, he demanded in the affidavit.
The EC had recently written to the state government to share the documents related to the mining lease. The issue has already triggered a political controversy in the mineral-rich state.