NEW DELHI, Feb 2: Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s (JMM) Champai Soren was on Friday sworn-in as the new Chief Minister of Jharkhand even as his predecessor Hemant Soren was remanded to five days Enforcement Directorate custody by a special PMLA court in Ranchi in connection with a money laundering case linked to an alleged land fraud.
Along with Champai Soren, Mr Satyanand Bhokta and Alamgir Alam Khan were also sworn in as Cabinet Ministers. Swearing-in was followed by a cabinet meeting after which Mr Khan said the new ministry would seek the trust vote on February 5 even though the Governor CP Radhakrishnan had given the new chief minister 10 days’ time to prove his majority in the state Assembly.
Mr Champai Soren was elected as the new leader of the JMM Legislature Party following Mr Hemant Soren’s resignation and subsequent arrest by the ED on January 31 under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Mr Champai Soren is the sixth CM from the Jharkhand’s Kolhan region which comprises East Singhbhum, West Singhbhum and Seraikela-Kharsawan districts.
“We stand united. Our alliance is very strong. No one can break it,” Champai Soren had said. In the 81-member Jharkhand Assembly, the JMM-led alliance has 47 MLAs — JMM 29, Congress 17 and RJD 1. The BJP has 26 members and the AJSU Party three. The NCP and CPI (ML) have one lawmaker each, apart from two Independents.
But while Champai Soren and two others were taking oath, all the remaining 44 MLAs of the alliance, following a day filled with suspense and uncertainty when governor sought time before inviting the new leader to form the ministry on Thursday, landed in Hyderabad in two chartered aircrafts. The two aircrafts departed from Ranchi and landed at Begumpet airport in Hyderabad around 3.30 p.m. Sources have confirmed that a total of 44 MLAs, representing Congress, JMM and RJD have arrived in Hyderabad
The former chief Mr Hemant Soren was arrested on Wednesday night after a seven-hour grilling by the ED in the money laundering case. He resigned as the Chief Minister before that. The special PMLA court had on Thursday sent the JMM leader to judicial custody for a day in view of the hearing in the Supreme Court scheduled for Friday.
The Supreme Court, however, dismissed his petition challenging his arrest by the ED. “We are informed that petitioner has already preferred a writ petition before the Jharkhand High Court, which is still pending. It will also be open to him to ask for expeditious listing and disposal of the case,” the Supreme Court said.
Mr Soren had earlier approached the high court challenging the summons issued by the ED. He was sent to one-day judicial custody by a special PMLA court in Ranchi yesterday and the court extended his custody to five days after the Supreme Court dismissed his petition on Friday.
In his petition, Hemant Soren contended before the Supreme Court that the agency had “abused its power and acted in a malafide manner to destabilise a democratically-elected state government.” He also called his arrest “illegal and without jurisdiction” “The ED is brazenly acting under the (diktats) of the central government and hounding the petitioner to destabilise a democratically-elected government headed by the petitioner,” he said.
A bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna, M.M. Sundresh, and Bela M. Trivedi said they were not inclined to entertain the petition. “We are not inclined to entertain the present petition,” adding that it left open to petitioner to approach the jurisdictional HC. The top court also said that it is open for the petitioner to urge the high court to expeditiously decide the case,” the court stated.
When the bench assembled early in the morning, the court asked the petitioner’s lawyer, “Why don’t you approach HC.” Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Mr Soren, submitted that the matter deals with a Chief Minister who has been arrested. The top court remarked courts are open to everybody and high courts are constitutional. If they allow one person then they have to allow everybody, the top court said.
Mr Soren challenged the ED’s summons dated January 22, 2024, and January 25, 2024, purportedly issued under Section 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, as illegal, null, and void, and accordingly quash the impugned summons and all steps taken and proceedings emanating therefrom.
The JMM chief claimed that he has been facing constant harassment at the hands of the ED, alleging that the probe agency was misusing its authority and powers at the bidding of its political masters. The probe pertains to proceeds of crime generated by allegedly forging official records by showing ‘fake sellers’ and purchasers in the guise of forged or bogus documents to acquire huge parcels of land having value in crores.
The ED has alleged that Hemant Soren was involved in a ₹ 600-crore land scam and the laundering of its proceeds. The ED said land parcels spanning 8.5 acres were part of the criminal proceeds that the former CM allegedly acquired. ED stated that in a raid conducted on April 13, 2023, they unearthed several property-related records and registers that were in the possession of Revenue Sub-Inspector Bhanu Pratap Prasad.
It said the probe further revealed that Bhanu Pratap Prasad and others are part of a “very large syndicate involved in corrupt practices of acquiring properties forcefully as well as on the basis of false deeds. “Considering the facts and circumstances and taking into consideration the activities and processes of money laundering in which Soren is directly involved and is also a party with the said Bhanu Pratap and others, there are sufficient reasons to believe that Soren is guilty of the offence of money laundering as per section 3 of PMLA 2002,” the agency stated.