Delhi HC dismisses Shibu Soren’s appeal against Lokpal proceedings

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday dismissed an appeal filed by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief Sibu Soren against an order refusing to interfere with the proceedings initiated against him by the Lokpal on the basis of a complaint by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey.

A division bench of justices Rekha Palli and Rajnish Bhatnagar said there was no reason to interfere with the order of the single-judge bench that held that Soren’s petition was premature.

“The appeal being meritless is, accordingly, dismissed with all accompanying applications,” the court said.

The division bench was hearing the appeal filed by Soren, a Rajya Sabha MP from Jharkhand, challenging the January 22 order of the high court’s single-judge bench that rejected the former Jharkhand chief minister’s petition against the Lokpal proceedings and the complaint.

The bench said from the specific allegations levelled by the complainant, it is evident that the complaint pertains not only to purchasing properties, which Soren claimed were bought more than seven years ago, but also relates to “ongoing incidents of amassing wealth by misuse of power by the appellant”.

“In the light of these allegations, we are unable to accept the appellant’s plea that it was a fit case where the respondent no. 1 (Lokpal) ought to have, at the very first instance, rejected the complaint as being barred by limitation.

“In fact, the respondent no. 1 is yet to take a decision as to whether or not a prima facie case exists for directing investigation against the appellant by any agency, including the Delhi Special Police Establishment. In this factual matrix, we find no infirmity with the approach adopted by the respondent no.1,” it said.

In the complaint made in August 2020, Dubey, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Lok Sabha MP from Jharkhand’s Godda, alleged that Soren and his family members “acquired huge wealth and properties by misusing the public exchequer and grossly indulged in corruption”.

The Lokpal had then directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to conduct a preliminary inquiry against Soren to ascertain whether there was a prima facie case for proceeding in the matter.

The division bench also dealt with Soren’s plea that the Lokpal ought to have rejected the complaint in limine under Rule 4(c)(v) of the Lokpal (Complaint) Rules, 2020.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Soren in the matter, drew the court’s attention to the documents filed along with the complaint and vehemently contended that except two properties, which according to the CBI are owned by the JMM, all other properties were purchased more than seven years prior to the date of the complaint.

Soren was also represented in the court by senior advocate Arunabh Chowdhury.

The court perused the complaint and found out that the complainant has not only levelled allegations against Soren that properties were purchased in his and his family members’ name through unfair means, but also raised a grievance that he and his family members were consistently misusing the funds of the public exchequer for their personal and political gains with the assistance of one Amit Aggarwal, who was constructing a 22-storey building in Saltlake, Kolkata.

It has been further alleged by the complainant that Soren had bought land around Ranchi through various shell companies, it noted.

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It was the case of the Lokpal, represented through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, that the question whether a prima facie case for directing investigation against a public servant is made out or not is to be decided under section 20(3) of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act after granting an opportunity of being heard to the public servant concerned.

The law officer contended that the single-judge bench was, therefore, right in holding that the writ petition was premature.

The single-judge bench, in its order, had said Soren’s petition challenging the Lokpal proceedings as well as the complaint was “premature” and it was for the ombudsman to see if there was sufficient material to proceed further.

It had also rejected the senior politician’s allegation of “malice” and asserted that the Lokpal, which is an independent authority, was yet to apply its mind to the material provided by the CBI.

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