NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Tuesday asked the Jharkhand High Court, which is hearing a PIL seeking investigation against Chief Minister Hemant Soren for alleged irregularities in the grant of mining leases and also on transactions of some shell companies purportedly operated by his family members and associates, to first hear preliminary objections on the maintainability of the petition.
A vacation bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Bela M Trivedi noted that the high court had itself in its order of May 13 said it would first decide the maintainability of the PIL filed by one Shiv Kumar Sharma and then it will go into the merit of the allegations levelled in the petition.
"We are of the considered view that the high court would first deal with the preliminary objections on the maintainability of the writ petition and based on the outcome it would then proceed further in accordance with law", the bench said.
The top court also made it clear that it has not made any observation with regard to the merit of the case and has not dealt with the allegations made in the petition.
The Jharkhand government has moved the top court against the orders of the high court.
At the outset, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Jharkhand government, said that PIL petitioner Sharma has suppressed material facts that he has been filing several PILs against the Chief Minister.
He referred to the 2010 rules of Jharkhand High Court on PILs and said that this petition of Sharma should not have been entertained by the High Court as there was no full disclosure of previous litigations but instead, it has ordered to implead registrar of companies, Ministry of Corporate Affairs as respondents.
Sibal said that on May 17, the Enforcement Directorate filed an affidavit in a sealed cover in Sharma's PIL and said that they have got some material which is the subject matter of the PIL.
"The question is can some extraneous material brought in a sealed cover of some other case not related to the PIL be brought before the court. Can the High Court look into it," he said.
The bench said that whatever the High Court proposes to do in the PIL even if it holds that the petitioner is not bonafide, it can take suo motu cognizance of the matter.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for ED and Ministry of Corporate Affairs, said that there are some observations made but an affidavit has been filed by the ED as during a raid in some other FIRs registered in 2012, it has come in possession of some material, which is the subject matter of the PIL.
He said that notices were issued to the ED and CBI and therefore they were before the High Court and referred to recoveries made in raids against IAS officer Pooja Singhal, who was the state mining secretary at the time.
"The raids were conducted by the ED in connection with 15 FIRs lodged in 2012 in connection with diversions of funds in the MGNREGA scheme in Khunti district, whose deputy commissioner was Singhal at the time. During these raids, we found some material which was in connection with the grant of mining leases and transfer of funds to shell companies mentioned in the PIL", Mehta said.
He added that the anti-money laundering agency found the money trail leading to these shell companies mentioned in the PIL and therefore a sealed cover report was filed for the perusal of the court.
Mehta said that all three PILs which relate to the irregularities filed in 2019, 2021, and 2022 have been clubbed by the High Court and heard together.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Chief Minister, questioned the locus of the petitioner and maintainability of the PIL and said that he has been filing the PILs since Hemant Soren's father Shibu Soren's time.
The bench said that it would ask the High Court to first decide the maintainability of the PILs and based on the outcome, the High Court may proceed in accordance with the law.
It noted that three PILs including two filed by Sharma have been filed before the High Court seeking an investigation of CBI and ED with various allegations of corruption, misuse of his office, and money laundering against the Chief Minister.
On May 19, the top court had agreed to hear the plea of the Jharkhand government that the High Court is scheduled to hear two PILs seeking CBI and ED probe into the mining lease allegedly granted to the chief minister and some shell companies operated by his family members and associates.
The other PIL has been filed by one Arun Dubey in 2019 that has led to an ED probe in the alleged MNREGA scam where around Rs 17 crore has been found from the chartered accountant of Singhal.
The ED had submitted its report before the High Court in a sealed cover on the fresh findings following the raids and arrest of suspended mines secretary Pooja Singhal and Chartered Accountant Suman Kumar in connection with the alleged MNREGA scam.
The ED had also informed the High court that massive bungling of funds in MGNREGA schemes took place while Singhal was posted as the Khunti deputy commissioner and as many as 15 FIRs alleged money laundering.
Sharma in his PIL filed in 2022 has claimed several shell companies were formed to launder money embezzled from different welfare funds meant for Jharkhand.
The IAS officer was suspended by the Jharkhand government on May 12 as part of the procedure undertaken, in case of a Government servant being arrested in a criminal case, within 24 hours of the receipt of information.