The Election Commission has sent notice to Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, asking that he explain why action should not be taken against him over allegations of the grant of mining license in Ranchi to himself in June 2021. The Commission’s move came after the Governor referred the case to the poll body following opposition’s complaint. Mr Soren — who handles the mining portfolio — has been asked to submit his response by May 10.
The mining lease apparently violates Section 9A of the Representation of the People Act, which deals with disqualification over government contracts. The opposition has claimed that Mr Soren is liable to be disqualified in terms of Article 191 (e) of the Constitution of India read with Section 9(A) of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951, for acquiring the lease.
In a petition to the Governor Ramesh Bais, the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has claimed that that the lease does not attract Section 9 (A) of the Representation of Peoples Act. The opposition, the JMM claimed, is trying to “create an atmosphere of political turmoil in the state and destabilise the democratically elected Government”.
“Stone mining does not constitute ‘works undertaken by the Government’,” the JMM said in the petition citing Supreme Court ruling in a similar case.
Mr Soren, the party contended, is not in the business of mining and the mining lease agreement he entered into was “not in the course of his trade”.
“In any event, the mining lease agreement which was executed by Shri Soren was not acted upon and is not subsisting. Thus, none of the essential conditions stipulated for triggering Section 9 (A) are present in the case of Shri Hemant Soren,” the party contended, requesting the Governor to forward the representation to the Election Commission.
While giving a judgment in 2001 in a case involving then Haryana MLA Kartar Singh, the Supreme Court had clarified that a mining lease is not a contract for the execution of any works undertaken by the Government.
The court held: “As we see it, it is only when the appropriate Government has undertaken works, such as the laying of a road, the erection of a building or the construction of a dam, and has entered into a contract for the execution of such works that the contractor is disqualified under Section 9-A. Section 9-A does not operate to disqualify the lessee of a mining lease such as the appellant.”
Under Section 9A of Representation of Peoples Act, a person shall be disqualified if and for so long as they have entered into a contract in the state and business with the appropriate government for supply of goods to, or for the execution of any works undertaken by, that government.
According to the JMM, a legislator can be disqualified if he entered into a contract in course of his trade or business; the contract should be entered into with the appropriate Government; that the contract should subsist; that the contract should relate to works undertaken by that Government and the contract should be for the execution of such works.