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Jharkhand High Court refuses permission to former CM Hemant Soren to participate in budget session

The Jharkhand High Court refused to grant permission to former Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, who is currently in jail after his recent arrest in a money laundering case, to take part in the ongoing Budget Session of the State legislature

A single judge bench of Justice Sujit Narayan Prasad observed that a person who is in custody on the basis of a valid order will have to forgo his right to participate in the business of the legislature. The Jharkhand High Court further rejected the argument that the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led government in the state would collapse if Hemant Soren, a member of the legislative assembly, was averted from participating in the session.

The High Court underlined that such an irreparable loss would only be there if the voting strength of the ruling and opposing party are neck-to-neck. Justice Prasad added that in such cases probability is there of non-passing of the budget leading to loss of confidence in government which will have adverse impact across the state.

Nonetheless, in the present case, the Court was informed that these numbers are not neck-to-neck. It was submitted before the court that the number of legislative assembly members in Jharkhand on the ruling side is 47 and in opposition, it is 29.

Hemant Soren had resigned as the Chief Minister of Jharkhand on January 31 in the wake of his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a money laundering case related to the illegal change of ownership of land by the mafia in Jharkhand.

Former CM Hemant Soren had moved the High Court challenging the trial court’s refusal to permit him to participate in the budget session which commenced on February 23 and will conclude on March 2.

Considering the submissions made by Hemant Soren and Enforcement Directorate, the High Court examined the question of whether participation in the budget session can be said to be a fundamental right in light of Article 19(1)(a) and Article 194 of the Constitution.

The Jharkhand High Court stated that the fundamental right to freedom of speech under Article 19 is distinct from Article 194 which provides absolute freedom of speech to legislators within the legislative chamber. It concluded that there is no violation of a fundamental right in not permitting Soren to participate in the Budget Session.

Furthermore, the Court also considered whether it would be just to allow Hemant Soren to participate in the Budget Session under a vested right, when serious allegations of money laundering have been levelled against him.

The High Court mentioned that if no legal proceedings were pending against Soren, then certainly in the capacity of being a people’s representative, his right to participate in the budget session would have been a vested legal right.

Nonetheless, since the order of remand has not been challenged by Soren, Justice Prasad concluded that it cannot be said that any legal vested right has accrued to the petitioner to participate in the proceeding of the floor. The Court also stated that the right to vote and right to contest in elections are on the same level as a right to participate in the session.

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