Probe by Jharkhand govt would be a farce: SG Tushar Mehta

STATING THAT any investigation by the Jharkhand government on the matters pertaining to the MGNREGA scam, mining lease and alleged money laundering through shell companies would a be a “farce”, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Thursday told Jharkhand High Court that this would be against the “interest of justice”, considering that the “potential accused” may surface as per the evidence collected and submitted in a sealed cover in the court.

The issue came up when the bench of Chief Justice Ravi Ranjan and Justice Sujit Narayan Prasad was hearing three PILs related to the 2010 MGNREGA scam, allotment of mining lease and alleged use of shell companies for money laundering.

While the PIL related to the MGNREGA scam, in which senior IAS officer Pooja Singhal has been arrested by Enforcement Directorate (ED), was filed in 2019, the PILs relating to the mining lease and shell companies, both concerning Chief Minister Hemant Soren, were filed in 2022 and 2021, respectively.

Since Singhal was the state mining secretary, the court on May 13 started hearing the two PILs related to the MGNREGA scam as well as the mining lease together.

After Mehta, appearing for the ED in the PIL related to the alleged shell companies on May 17, submitted in the court documents in a sealed cover, which he said were recovered from Singhal and disclose “involvement of higher-ups”, the bench said that it would hear the matter along with the MGNREGA scam together on May 19.

In the May 17 hearing, the court had rejected the state’s plea on recalling previous orders where the ED had requested to submit “collected materials” on shell companies.

On Thursday, when the matter came up in court, Mehta said: “Whenever an investigation is underway and chargesheet has not been filed…, the documents [on investigation] are confidential and cannot be made public [which] is the mandate of law. We can only share it with the court, and after going through the material gathered and [submitted] in the sealed cover, the court would be satisfied on two things: one, on the quality of evidence gathered so far is not impeachable or even alleged to be fabricated and, second, they go to the very root of enlargement of very high-level scam.”

The SG then submitted “that it would be absolutely against the interest of justice to entrust any further investigation with the state authority, considering the potential accused which might come as per the evidence collected here”.

“The state investigation would, in my understanding, be a farce,” he said.

Representing the state, senior advocate Kapil Sibal said he could not be of any assistance to the court as he does not know what was in the sealed cover. Sibal informed the court that a Special Leave Petition has been filed in Supreme Court on behalf of the state, challenging the sealed cover issue and the matter was likely to be come up on Friday.

In the mining lease petition, the court came down heavily on the state for leaving it upon Ranchi Deputy Commissioner Chavvi Ranjan to file an affidavit on its behalf at a time when he is an accused in a 2015 corruption case. Attorney General Rajiv Ranjan said the officer was still on trial and that he was out on bail.

After the records were presented, Chief Justice Ravi Ranjan said: “State being a prosecutor in the case [felling of trees] and the same time the state is saying he is fit to file an affidavit…He is an accused in a Prevention of Corruption Act involving the cutting down of a few trees in Koderma district. Under CrPC 164, statement was given by a witness, then DDC Koderma, stating that he (DC Ranjan) had asked not to institute a named FIR and had also pressured him to change the statement of other witness… Kis tarah ka aadmi hai ye (What kind of person he is).”

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