“Will open floodgates,” SC says while refusing to hear Hemant Soren Article 32 plea against arrest

While refusing to entertain a plea filed by former Chief Minister of Jharkhand Hemant Soren, the Supreme Court asked him to approach the Jharkhand High Court for relief. The Bench remarked that admitting the petition directly under Article 32 of the Constitution would open the floodgates for such petitions.

ON Friday, a special Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, M.M. Sundresh and Bela M. Trivedi refused to entertain a petition filed by former Chief Minister of Jharkhand Hemant Soren challenging his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002.

The Bench asked Soren to approach the Jharkhand High Court for relief. The Bench remarked that admitting the petition directly under Article 32 of the Constitution would open a floodgate for such petitions filed in the Supreme Court.

Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singvi fervently urged the court to hear the matter.

The Bench, however, remained firm and directed the high court to decide the petition, if Soren decided to file it, “expeditiously”. However, it refused to prescribe the timeline for the high court within which it must decide the petition despite being requested by Sibal.

On February 1, Sibal mentioned the petition before the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud for a listing of the petition by Soren who decided to list on February 2. The CJI, on the administrative side, formed a special Bench to hear the matter.

On January 31, Soren was arrested by the ED in an alleged land scam.

In the grounds of arrest furnished to Soren, the ED stated that the investigation revealed Bhanu Pratap Prasad (revenue sub-insepector, circle office, Baragai, Ranchi) and others were part of a very large syndicate involved in corrupt practices of acquiring properties forcefully as well as based on false deeds, falsification of government records, tampering with original revenue documents, etc.

The ED also stated that Bhanu Pratap Prasad was actively involved in hatching conspiracies with other persons to acquire and conceal various properties illegally, including the properties which are illegally acquired and possessed by Soren.

The ED also stated that the statement of several persons had been recorded under Section 50 of the PMLA, 2002 which also establishes that property is under illegal acquisition, possession and use of Soren and it had been kept concealed by him.

The ED has claimed that Soren directly indulged in the process connected with acquisition, possession and the use of proceeds of crime.

Shri Hemant Soren is knowingly a party along with Bhanu Pratap Prasad and others in the activities connected with concealment of the original records for projecting the property acquired by him in an illegal manner as an untainted property.

Further, the process or the activity connected with the acquisition, possession and use of proceeds of crime by projecting it as untainted property is continuing as on day as he is still enjoying the said proceeds of crime by its possession, occupation and use by claiming it as an untainted property,” the ED stated in the grounds of arrest.

In his petition, Soren contended that the grounds of arrest were specious and did not and cannot justify the arrest of the petitioner.

In his petition, Soren submitted that during the course of the investigation, he got to know that certain questions which were put to him in connection with Sadar P.S. Case No. 272/23 dated June 1, 2023.

The case, according to the petitioner, had been registered on the direction of deputy commissioner, Ranchi by the circle officer, Ranchi on the basis of raids conducted by the ED on April 13, 2023 and April 26, 2023 in the house of Bhanu Pratap Prasad, in which registers were found to be illegally kept with him even though they were required to be kept in the circle office.

It was further detected that the said registers were tampered with and in about 17 trunks, several deeds were recovered which belonged to the circle office.

The petition states that the first information report (FIR) was registered based on the complaint dated May 4, 2023 by the ED and on the direction of the deputy commissioner, Ranchi.

An FIR was registered at the instance of the circle officer, Bargain, Ranchi and the petitioner had no connection whatsoever in any manner but from the questions put forth by the ED during the course of investigation on January 20, 2024, it appeared that the ED was trying to make fishing and roving enquiry for political gain at the dictates of the Union government.

It is a State FIR at the instance of respondents in which no allegations have been made against the petitioner but still the summons are being issued with respect to ECIR /RNZO/25/2023 and the petitioner has been arrested in Sadar P.S. Case 272/23 in which the petitioner is not an accused and not related to any proceeds of crime connecting to the predicate offence,” the petition states.

Soren thus argued that the entire proceedings against were without jurisdiction as there was no predicate offence against the him.