Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, CJ and S. Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia*, JJ has set aside the order of Jharkhand High Court, wherein the two PILs filed against Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, were held to be maintainable and hence, it had decided to proceed in the case. The Supreme Court, however, was of the opinion that PILs were not filed with clean hands and hence, were not maintainable and were liable to be dismissed at the very threshold itself.

“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.”

Two PILs in question and High Court’s orders

  • First PIL was filed seeking a direction to the Directorate General Income Tax, Investigation to enquire into the money transferred by the Soren family in the name of private respondents through the shell companies and also to investigate the source of income of private respondents and to investigate the financial crime committed by CM Hemant Soren.
  • Second PIL was filed seeking a direction to prosecute the CM Hemant Soren, who is also the Minister in the Department of Mines, for misusing his office in getting a mining lease in his own name.

Interestingly, both the PILs were filed before the Jharkhand High Court by the same person, i.e. Shiv Shankar Sharma, who is admittedly the son of Dr. Gautam Sharma who was one of the witnesses for the prosecution in a criminal case against the father of CM Hemant Soren.

By orders dated 03.06.2022, the High Court had held that the PILs were maintainable, and thus it decided to proceed with the matter on its merits.

Supreme Court’s stay on proceedings before High Court

The maintainability of these two PILs was then challenged before the Supreme Court. On 17.08.2022, the Supreme Court had reserved its orders and directed that meanwhile the High Court shall not proceed further with the matter.

Supreme Court’s order setting aside PILs

The Court observed that the PIL could have been heard despite the fact that the petitioner is the son of Dr. Gautam Sharma who was one of the witnesses for the prosecution in a criminal case against CM Hemant Soren’s father, however, he was found to have come to the Court with “unclean hands” for the following reasons:

  • He has deliberately and wilfully withheld from the Court that an earlier writ petition was filed on similar grounds seeking similar reliefs which was dismissed by the Jharkhand High Court on 22.11.2013 with costs, an order which was upheld by the Supreme Court vide order dated 28.02.2014.
  • Allegations of corruption and siphoning of money from shell companies are nothing but a bald allegation, without substantiating the allegations in any manner whatsoever and is therefore only asking the Court to direct Central Bureau of Investigation or the Directorate of Enforcement to investigate the matter. The names of persons who are allegedly responsible for the operation of these companies have been mentioned, but without producing any concrete evidence, it has been stated that these persons are connected/close aides or related to the Chief Minister. Further, none of the companies have been made a party to the present PILs, before the Jharkhand High Court. Thus, an order is sought from the High Court to direct the Enforcement Directorate to investigate these so called “shell companies” without even making the companies a party in the writ proceedings.
  • Second writ petition is totally an abuse of the process of the Court as the issue relating to the mining lease in favour of the Chief Minister Hemant Soren and his disqualification from office, is already pending consideration with the Election Commission of India.
  • In relation to present two PILs, no FIR or complaint has been filed with the police or any authority agitating the grievances and these petitions have been filed before the High Court, without availing the statutory remedies.

The Court, hence, noted that the petitioner in the PILs did not go with clean hands before the High Court and hence, they were liable to be dismissed at the very threshold itself as on generalized averments which are nothing but mere allegations at this stage, the Court cannot become a forum to investigate the alleged acts of misdeeds against high constitutional authorities.

“We are not for a moment saying that people who occupy high offices should not be investigated, but for a High Court to take cognizance of the matter on these generalized submissions which do not even make prima facie satisfaction of the Court, is nothing but an abuse of the process of the Court. The nondisclosure of the credentials of the petitioner and the past efforts made for similar reliefs as it has been mandated under the Rules, 2010 further discredits these petitions.”

[State of Jharkhand v. Shiv Shankar Sharma, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1541, decided on 07.11.2022]

*Judgment by: Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia

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