On August 7th, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal made by Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji and his spouse, who were contesting the validity of the Madras High Court’s decision. The High Court had ruled that their arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a money laundering case was lawful.
In turning down Balaji’s request, the Supreme Court has granted permission for him to be subjected to questioning by the ED while in custody.
A panel consisting of Justices A S Bopanna and M M Sundresh also decided to forward to a larger panel the matter of whether police custody can extend beyond the initial 15 days of detention.
Balaji, who maintains his position as a minister without a specific portfolio within the Tamil Nadu government despite being arrested on June 14, alongside his wife, challenged a ruling from the Madras High Court. This ruling upheld the legality of his detention by the investigative agency regarding a money laundering case linked to the alleged cash-for-jobs scandal within the state’s transportation department.
The story so far.
Balaji’s arrest stemmed from an investigation into a cash-for-job scam that occurred during his tenure as the transport minister in the Jayalalithaa administration from 2011 to 2016. Allegations were made that he accepted bribes from individuals seeking employment, leading to his removal from the cabinet by Jayalalithaa in 2015.
M.K. Stalin, the Chief Minister and leader of the DMK, characterized the Enforcement Directorate’s actions as a form of “political vendetta.” He expressed that the agency’s move to enter the office of a currently serving minister within the state secretariat was unparalleled. The subsequent day, after Balaji experienced chest discomfort and was admitted to a government hospital in Chennai, Stalin visited him to inquire about his health. Insider sources revealed that Stalin assured Balaji of the party’s unwavering support.
Cash for job case
The cash-for-job scandal was exposed in 2015, leading to Balaji’s removal from the former Jayalalithaa’s cabinet. The incident unfolded when a man named S. Devasahayam lodged a formal complaint with the Central Crime Branch (CCB) in Chennai, targeting certain officials within the transport department. Devasahayam alleged that an individual named Palani, who worked as a conductor in the transport department, demanded a sum of Rs 2,60,000 in exchange for securing a job for his son at the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC). Despite making the payment, his son did not secure the promised position. Devasahayam’s complaint also implicated another individual named Baskar, who held the position of junior assistant at the Saidapet Depot.
Acting on Devasahayam’s complaint, the Central Crime Branch initiated a First Information Report (FIR) against Palani, Baskar, as well as another individual named Kesavan within the transport department, along with others involved in the matter.
About Senthil Balaji
Balaji held a position of significant influence within Jayalalithaa’s cabinet and was considered her favored associate. Notably, he was the solitary individual in the AIADMK party who could directly communicate with Jayalalithaa when she secluded herself in the Poes Garden residence following her conviction in a Disproportionate Assets (DA) case. Images of him offering prayers, lighting lamps, and prostrating himself in a temple, all with the intention of securing a favorable outcome for Jayalalithaa in the DA case, continue to circulate on social media. Balaji also played a key role in introducing the ‘Amma Kudineer’ (Amma water) program, which gained popularity during Jayalalithaa’s administration.
However, Balaji’s influence began to wane after he was implicated in the job racket scandal, which led to his removal from the cabinet in 2015. In 2016, despite his preference to contest from Karur, the AIADMK fielded him in the Aravakurichi constituency. Nonetheless, the voting process in Aravakurichi was postponed due to allegations of cash being exchanged for votes. Subsequently, the elections were held while Jayalalithaa was in the hospital, and Balaji emerged victorious. Following Jayalalithaa’s passing, Balaji aligned himself with V.K. Sasikala, who endorsed Palaniswami as the Chief Minister.
Balaji, along with 17 others, initially joined the Dhinakaran faction. However, his association with Dhinakaran was short-lived, and he switched to the DMK in 2020, just a few months prior to the assembly election.