New Delhi, Nov. 28: Glued to the twists and turns of Sanjay Dutt’s fortunes, the Union cabinet got a jolt this evening when a Delhi court found coal minister Shibu Soren guilty of involvement in the 1994 murder of his private secretary.
The verdict prompted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to move fast and seek his resignation, following which the 62-year-old Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader stepped down.
Soren, who was present when additional sessions judge B.R. Kedia handed down the verdict, was ordered to be taken to Tihar jail, but was admitted under custody to the cardiology department of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences after he complained of uneasiness.
Kedia, who will pronounce the sentence on November 30, also convicted four of Soren’s accomplices for the murder of Shashinath Jha.
The court acquitted two others who had been charged with kidnapping Jha on Soren’s orders.
“Shibu Soren is convicted under sections 120-b (criminal conspiracy) read with 364 (kidnapping) and 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code,” the judge said.
Soren, who is still embroiled in a massacre case which cost him the coal ministry in 2004 before he staged a comeback this year after getting bail, faces anything between life in prison to death.
The Central Bureau of Investigation, which was asked to probe the case by Delhi High Court, had found Jha’s skeleton near Ranchi on August 13, 1998.
The agency said Jha, who was about 45 when he went missing, was abducted from Delhi and taken to Ranchi, then in Bihar, on May 23, 1994, where he was killed and his body buried.
In its chargesheet, the CBI had alleged that Jha was murdered because he was aware of the details of the reported deal between the Congress and the JMM to save the P.V. Narasimha Rao government during the July 1993 no-confidence motion. Soren had also faced trial in the bribery case but was acquitted.
“Jha was aware of the illegal transactions and also expected and demanded a substantial share out of this amount from Soren,” the CBI said.
Jha, a native of Bihar but settled in Delhi, was Soren’s private secretary ever since the JMM chief became a Lok Sabha member for the first time in 1980.
“Terha”, as Soren used to call him as he could not walk straight following a mishap, used to take care of every need of his boss when he was in the capital — right from buying vegetables to keeping documents.
The CBI had mainly relied on the deposition of prosecution witnesses as the DNA report did not support its case that the body dug out was that of Jha. Interestingly, Jha’s mother had also contended that the body was not that of her son.
Not getting support from DNA reports, the CBI relied on the “skull superimposition report”, which went in its favour.