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Hemant Soren Challenges BJP And ED To Produce Record Of Him Owning 8.5 Acres Of Land

Hemant Soren, the former chief minister of Jharkhand, was arrested on Monday, February 5, in connection with an alleged land fraud. He challenged the BJP and the ED, saying that he would leave politics and the state if they could present any documentation identifying him as the owner of 8.5 acres of land in Ranchi.

“Agar himmat hai to woh (BJP) kaagaz patak ke dikhaye ki 8.5 acre ki zameen Hemant Soren ke naam par. Agar hai to main rajneeti se istifa de dunga… Rajneeti se sanyas kya, Jharkhand hi chor ke chale jayenge (If they have the courage, let them show the documents on the ownership of 8.5 acres of land in the name of Hemant Soren. If they have it, then I will quit politics…forget resignation, I will leave Jharkhand),” Soren said Monday, before a floor test in the state Assembly.

Soren, who is being held by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), was permitted to cast a vote in the Monday trust motion that the coalition led by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) won. On the evening of January 31, he was taken into custody following his resignation from Governor CP Radhakrishnan.

The Enforcement Department (ED) had been looking into a number of crimes in Jharkhand, such as illicit mining, the 2009 MGNREGA “scam,” and the purported acquisition and sale of an Army site in Ranchi. The name of Bhanu Pratap Prasad, the revenue sub-inspector of the Bargaain Circle Office at the time, surfaced during the Army land probe. In the end, Prasad was connected to Soren.

According to the ED, Prasad was a member of a network that bought properties unlawfully by using force and fabricating official documents. The agency claims that Prasad was the keeper of many original registers, also referred to as Panji 2, wherein land documents, specifically those pertaining to ownership details, were fabricated.

On April 13, 2023, ED reported that he had 17 Panji 2 and 11 trunks of property documents taken from him during searches. The then-Chief Secretary of State was provided with this information by the ED, and as a result, on June 1st of last year, a FIR was filed. This FIR served as the basis for the filing of the ECIR, which is the ED’s version of a FIR and is what led to Soren’s arrest.

Soren is one of the persons Bhanu Pratap “hatched conspiracies with” to seize properties, according to the ED. According to the agency, Soren’s cell phone contained information about properties that were unlawfully obtained or possessed. The data from the former CM’s phone was taken while he was being held, and the ED said that multiple conversations about cash transactions, giving illicit incentives to those buying land, etc., were found.

The focus has been on “one image” of handwritten notes that list the properties—that is, land parcels—that Hemant Soren “illegally acquired and possessed.”

According to the ED, Prasad physically verified the 8.5 acres of land in the Bargaain region of Ranchi, following instructions from the CMO. It said that Soren’s unauthorised possession of the land was verified by its survey of the PMLA-affected area.

“…the investigation establishes…there was an attempt to falsify the records of that register so that the property can be entered in the name of Hemant Soren which was foiled by timely actions of this office (ED)…Thus…Hemant Soren has directly indulged in the process connected with acquisition, possession and the use of proceeds of crime…(and is) knowingly a party with Bhanu Pratap Prasad,” the ED said, adding, “…as such he (Soren) is guilty of the offence of money laundering.”

Hemant Soren claimed in his letter in response to the ED summons that the 8.5 had been “wrongfully alleged to be owned” by him. According to him, the property was actually “Bhuinhari” land, which is non-transferable under the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act.

“The plot of land at Bargaain is ‘Bhuinhari land’ which cannot be sold or alienated in any manner whatsoever and the said land is owned and possessed by the Pahan family for over five decades. It is clear that all your questions relating to the said land were misconceived and a sheer waste of time,” Soren wrote.

Soren said in his appeal to the Supreme Court that the ED seemed to be “fishing and roving inquiry” for “political gain” in his appeal against the arrest.

“It is shocking that the document mentioned in the mobile phone is taken as gospel truth to arrest the petitioner (Soren) without him being named in the FIR,” the petition said.

The unrelated battle over the aforementioned piece of land, which was settled to determine its true owner, was referenced in Soren’s plea to the SC.

The case claimed that a Raj Kumar Pahan and a Budhan Ram were at odds over the project. After looking into this last year, the Bargaain Circle Office concluded that the land is “not vested in the Government of Jharkhand” and that its inclusion into the land records is incorrect. The case was subsequently brought before the revenue court, where Manisha Tirkey, a Court of Special Regulations Officer, declared that the revenue records kept by the Bargaain Circle Office were deemed to be deficient.

One of the two parties, Budhan Ram, failed to appear for the entire hearing, according to Tirkey’s instruction, and it was later discovered that he had “forcefully occupied the land through deceit.” As a result, an order was made to return the land to its rightful owner, Raj Kumar Pahan.

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