The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Case bomb still ticks on Soren

Jamtara, July 17: Union home minister Shivraj Patil was right when he informed the Lok Sabha that there is no criminal case against Union coal minister Sibu Soren pending in a Jamtara court. Jharkhand chief minister Arjun Munda was also right when he declared that though there is a case, Soren had obtained bail from the court.

Yet, the coal minister may soon find himself in a legal bind and forced to surrender and seek a fresh bail from the court here. PTI late tonight quoted sources as saying a warrant has been issued against Soren.

The 29-year-old case resurfaced after the high court directed the lower courts to transfer all pending cases to fast-track courts for disposal.

The fast-track court discovered that although Soren was named as a prime accused in a case of arson and rioting, which took 10 lives in January 1975, the records pertained to only 59 of the other accused. Records related to Soren and nine others, who were accused by the police of having master-minded the violence, were found to be missing.

The case apparently had been bifurcated and while the trial continued for the 59 minor offenders, the trial for the other 10 never took off.

A tense meeting of judicial officers was held here on Saturday on the issue. Earlier, sources said legal opinion is apparently divided on whether the court requires to issue a fresh warrant of arrest, because the one reportedly issued in 1986 was never served on Soren, or whether Soren can be discreetly advised to surrender and granted bail immediately on personal bond.

Since the ongoing trial does not have Soren as an accused, explained a judicial officer, the Union home minister was correct in saying that no case existed against the minister. It is also true that he had obtained bail in 1975. When the charges were finally framed in 1986, Soren failed to appear before the court.

The court thereafter bifurcated the case and ordered warrants of arrest to be issued against those, including Soren, who had failed to appear.

The warrants, it seems, were either never issued or were never delivered. Judicial officers here were tight-lipped and refused to speak on record. They, however, confirmed that efforts are being made to trace the missing court records and seek the high court’s advice on the legality of a fresh warrant against the accused.

Court officials manning the record room here have been directed to trace the missing documents “on a war footing”.

Several houses were torched and 10 people killed at Chirrudih village when a mob attacked the houses of money-lenders in January 1975. A dying declaration before a judicial magistrate, apparently, held Soren responsible for instigating the mob. The chargesheet filed by the police in 1979 also named him as a prime accused.

The very next year, however, Soren was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time, which probably explains why the trial slowed down and charges came up for framing only seven years later. The case, in any case, was bound to be a long-drawn one with the list of accused standing at 69. Ironically, Soren was actually arrested once in Dhanbad in 1976 after he failed to appear before the court on a particular date and his bail was cancelled.

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