Ranchi: Enforcement Directorate sleuths continued to question Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren at his official residence here on Saturday in connection with a money laundering case linked to an alleged land scam.
The entire area has turned into a virtual fortress with heavy deployment of security forces, an official said.
Soren, 48, who is also the executive president of the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), had earlier skipped seven summonses by the ED. He finally gave his consent after the probe agency summoned him for the eighth time.
The ED personnel reached Soren’s residence around 1 pm, the official said, adding, the questioning has been underway for more than six hours now.
Security personnel, deployed in large numbers at the spot, are using high-resolution body cameras to keep track of activities around the house, he said.
The measure comes in the wake of the recent attack on ED officials in West Bengal during a raid pertaining to an alleged multi-crore ration distribution scam.
The Ranchi district administration has also imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC near Soren’s house, disallowing any demonstration, carrying weapons and public meetings.
“The restrictions will be in place till 11 pm on Saturday,” Ranchi SDO Utkarsh Kumar told PTI.
Security has also been bolstered outside the residences of key BJP leaders in the state and the party headquarters as a precautionary measure.
Meanwhile, the JMM convened a meeting of its legislators at the chief minister’s residence.
“The ED is questioning the CM… We are also holding our meeting… Any strategy about the future course of action will be made based on the outcome of the questioning,” JMM general secretary and spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya told PTI.
Jamtara MLA Irfan Ansari, who met Soren before being quizzed by the ED officials, said the chief minister asked party workers to be patient.
“The CM, after seeing me, turned emotional and asked us to have patience,” Ansari said.
Opposing the ED action, JMM workers and tribal outfits staged protests across the state. Asked about the demonstrations, Bhattacharya said those were spontaneous, and his party had not taken any call on that.
JMM workers armed with bows and arrows were also spotted at some distance from Soren’s house.
Congress’ Jharkhand president Rajesh Thakur said that party MLAs were present to express solidarity with the CM.
Those present inside Soren’s residence include Social Welfare Minister Joba Manjhi, Congress legislator Deepika Pandey Singh and Rajya Sabha MP Mahua Maji, besides several JMM legislators.
Jharkhand Advocate General Rajiv Ranjan, DGP Ajay Kumar Singh, Deputy Commissioner, Ranchi, Rahul Kumar Sinha and SSP Chandan Kumar Sinha are also at the spot, officials said.
The investigation pertains to a “huge racket of illegal change of ownership of land by the mafia” in Jharkhand, according to the central probe agency.
It has so far arrested 14 people in the case, including 2011-batch IAS officer Chhavi Ranjan, who served as the director of the state’s Social Welfare Department and deputy commissioner of Ranchi.
JMM MLA Ramdas Soren claimed that this was an attempt to destabilise the Jharkhand government.
The BJP, however, alleged that the chief minister was playing the “victim card” by sponsoring protests across the state.
“The CM should not have been given the privilege of interrogation at his official residence. Soren is scared of being arrested and that is why he did not visit the ED office for questioning,” senior BJP leader Amar Bauri told PTI.
Jharkhand BJP president Babulal Marandi said the ED agreed to Soren’s request for questioning at the chief minister’s house out of respect for him.
“Now, we hope that the CM will also show generosity and issue an order to the Jharkhand Police today itself that instead of calling any accused to the police station and interrogating him, officers should go to the house of the accused and question,” Marandi wrote on X.
He also claimed that tribals in the state are not with Soren anymore, and they want his exit.
Soren had filed a petition before the Supreme Court and the Jharkhand High Court, seeking protection from the ED action, terming the summonses “unwarranted”. Both the courts subsequently dismissed his petitions.
Jharkhand Governor C P Radhakrishnan had earlier this week said that the ED was doing its duty and Soren should provide the “right answers” to the probe agency.
In the 81-member Jharkhand Assembly, the ruling coalition holds 47 seats, including 29 MLAs from the JMM, 17 from the Congress, and one each from the RJD and the Communist Party of India (Marxists-Leninist).