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‘Half-baked truth, unclean hands’ — what SC said while dismissing PILs against Hemant Soren

Allegations by petitioner against Jharkhand CM Soren were 'not at all substantiated by anything worthy to be called evidence', Supreme Court ruled.

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New Delhi: The two public interest litigations (PILs) filed against Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren are not maintainable, the Supreme Court held Monday. The writ petitions, accusing Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Soren of alleged money laundering and irregularities in the issue of a mining lease, were filed in the Jharkhand High Court.

Subsequent to this, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) produced a sealed cover status report before the HC, without registering a case against Soren. Having perused the report, the HC rejected the state’s challenge to the maintainability of the PILs, prompting an appeal by the state and Soren.

Accepting their contentions, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) U.U. Lalit, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia held that it was “not proper for the High Court to entertain a PIL which is based on mere allegations and half baked truth that too at the hands of a person who has not been able to fully satisfy his credentials and has come to the Court with unclean hands”.

Petitioners must first approach the investigating agencies directly with incriminating material, and since this was not the case here, the plea could not succeed, said the order. Proceedings in the HC, therefore, lacked jurisdiction and were not maintainable, the top court ruled.

“Furthermore, the allegations which were made by the petitioner are vague, very much generalised and not at all substantiated by anything worthy to be called evidence,” read the order.

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Case against Soren, ‘PIL gang’

The two writ petitions against Soren were filed by one Shiv Shankar Sharma in the Jharkhand HC. While the first PIL sought directions to the Income Tax department to probe allegations of money laundering against Soren, the second sought directions to prosecute the chief minister for alleged misuse of office in securing a mining lease in his own name.

Relying on a sealed cover status report by the ED, the HC had earlier this year directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe the allegations. 

After the state of Jharkhand moved SC against such proceedings, the apex court in May directed the HC to decide upfront the maintainability of the proceedings. The HC then decided that such a plea was admissible but proceedings pending before the HC were stayed by the SC in August.

In the meantime, both the state of Jharkhand and Soren objected to the maintainability of the PILs and credentials of the petitioner. 

However, the objections were dismissed by the HC, prompting the state of Jharkhand to move the apex court against the order. The apex court has now held that proceedings before the HC were not maintainable in law. 

On Monday, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of “forming a PIL gang” to bring down the JMM-led government in the state. “A peculiar situation has been prevailing in the state ever since the UPA government came to power in Jharkhand with the clear intention to deliver and ensure the development of the state,” said Soren. 

“Some forces became so active that they have formed a PIL gang to file litigations against our government with false allegations,” he added. 

‘Unclean hands’ of petitioner

Courts cannot become a forum to investigate misdeeds against constitutional authorities based on ‘mere allegations’, the apex court ruled, adding that PILs based on half-baked truths must not be entertained and that such proceedings amount to an abuse of process.

It referred to a 2010 decision, involving a Sikkim Krantikari Morcha politician, to hold that a writ court is not the appropriate forum to initiate such an investigation. In the above case, a writ had been filed alleging that the chief minister had misappropriated large sums of public funds.

Alluding to the PIL that urged the HC to initiate a CBI probe against Soren, the apex court held that it was not the forum to seek redressal of such nature and such reliefs cannot be granted.

The top court further acknowledged the need to investigate people who occupy high offices, while reiterating that such allegations must be prima-facie satisfactory.

In its order, the SC also noted, “the locus of the petitioner is questionable and the clear fact that he has not approached the Court with clean hands makes it a case which was liable to be dismissed at the very threshold.”

The unclean hands doctrine suggests that one who approaches the HC must do so with ‘clean hands’ or in good faith and that the court will not assist a person who has come to it with ‘unclean hands’.

In addition, the court said that other central agencies could not probe the mining licence issue since it was pending before the Election Commission of India (ECI). The commission submitted its opinion in this regard to the governor of Jharkhand in August this year.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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