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What is the 8.5-acre land case in which Hemant Soren was arrested, what is he accused of

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Arrested in an alleged land scam case, Former Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren Monday (February 5) challenged the BJP and the ED that if they could produce any record naming him as the owner of 8.5 acres of land in Ranchi, he would leave politics and the state itself.

“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.

In custody of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), Soren was allowed to vote in the trust motion that the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led alliance won on Monday. He was arrested on the evening of January 31, after he submitted his resignation to Governor CP Radhakrishnan.

What is the genesis of the allegations against Soren?

The ED had been investigating various cases in Jharkhand, including illegal mining, a MGNREGA ‘scam’ of 2009, and the alleged illegal sale and purchase of an Army plot in Ranchi. It was during the Army land investigation that the name of then revenue sub-inspector of Bargaain Circle Office, Bhanu Pratap Prasad, popped up. Prasad was eventually linked to Soren.

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The ED claimed that Prasad was part of a syndicate involved in acquiring properties illegally, through force as well as by falsifying government records. According to the agency, Prasad was the custodian of several original registers — also known as Panji 2 — in which land records (particularly ownership details) were falsified.

During searches on April 13, 2023, ED said that 11 trunks of property documents along with 17 Panji 2 were seized from him. This information was shared by the ED with the then Chief Secretary of State, and accordingly an FIR was registered on June 1 last year. This FIR became the genesis of the registration of the ECIR — ED’s equivalent of an FIR — in which Soren was arrested.

What are the allegations against Soren?

According to the ED, Soren is among the people Bhanu Pratap “hatched conspiracies with” to take over properties. The agency alleged that details of the illegally acquired/possessed properties have been found on Soren’s mobile phone. While the former CM was in custody, his phone’s data was extracted, and several chats related to cash transactions, illegal benefits to others in acquiring land, etc., were identified, the ED claimed.

It has emphasised on ‘one image’ of handwritten notes containing a list of properties, i.e land parcels, which were “illegally acquired and possessed by Hemant Soren”.

The land parcels, totalling an area of 8.5 acres in Bargaain area of Ranchi, were physically verified by Prasad on instructions from the CMO, the ED alleged. It said its survey of the area under the PMLA confirmed that Soren had illegal possession of the land.

“…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.”

What has been Soren’s response?

While responding to the ED summons, Hemant Soren in his letter said the 8.5 had been “wrongfully alleged to be owned” by him. He said the plot was actually ‘Bhuinhari’ land, which under the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act cannot be transferred to anyone

“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.

In his plea to the Supreme Court against the arrest, Soren said that the ED appeared to be making a “fishing and roving enquiry” for “political gain”.

“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.

And who does the land officially belong to?

Soren’s petition in the SC cited an unrelated dispute over the said piece of land, which was resolved to establish its rightful owner.

According to the petition, the plot was disputed between one Raj Kumar Pahan and one Budhan Ram. The Bargaain Circle Office conducted an investigation last year into this, and found that the land is “not vested in the Government of Jharkhand” and its entry into the land records is not found to be in order. The matter then went to the revenue court, where Court of Special Regulations Officer Manisha Tirkey pronounced that the revenue records maintained by the Bargaain circle office had been found to be incomplete.

Tirkey in the order said that out of the two parties, one did not turn up for the entire hearing and later it was found that this party, Budhan Ram, had “forcefully occupied the land through deceit”. Hence, it was ordered that the land be returned to Raj Kumar Pahan, the legal owner.

source by: The Indian Express News

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