Senthil Balaji cash-for-job scam case: Supreme Court to wait for Madras High Court’s decision and adjourns ED’s plea

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On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of India adjourned the hearing of the petitions filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) because the Madras High Court will hear the matter on June 22. The petitions were against the Madras HC entertaining a habeas Corpus petition challenging the arrest of Senthil Balaji (Tamil Nadu Minister) as well as allowing him to be shifted to a private hospital for medical treatment. The matter was heard by the vacation bench including Justice MM Sundresh and Justice Surya Kant. On June 13, ED arrested Senthil Balaji in relation to a cash-for-job scam that occurred during his tenure as the Transportation Minister (AIADMK regime between 2011-2016). Further, a habeas corpus petition was filed by his family against his arrest and it also seek permission to transfer him to Kauvery Hospital, a private hospital, for treatment. The matter was listed for hearing by the Madras High Court on June 22, 2023. The family’s request to transfer Balaji to a hospital for treatment was allowed by the Madras High Court on June 15 but the HC denied his interim bail.

During the Court proceedings, the Solicitor General appearing for ED, Tushar Mehta, objected to the Madras HC’s interim order in a habeas corpus petition stating the same is not maintainable against arrest by an authority. He also said that the HC entertaining habeas corpus petition itself was illegal whereas the bench replied that the same is yet to be held by the HC. Moreover, Justice Kant said, “The High Court has merely issued a notice in the habeas corpus petition. You have a right in law to urge before the High Court that the habeas corpus petition is not maintainable. All those judgments you can cite and we have no doubt that the High Court will consider them and pass appropriate orders.” Further, SG argued that the ED’s remand regarding the interim order which allowed Balaji to be shifted to a private hospital is meaningless. The bench further pointed that “The point is should you get police remand only after the medical board declares the man to be fit and healthy. The question is should it be postponed till a point till he recovers. That is the only point.” He further added, “The High Court will have to follow the judicial principles. And in case any error by the High Court, we will examine it…”

In a sarcastic tone, SG said that “I am happy that the Court has held that a habeas is maintainable against a remand, I hope all citizens avail this remedy. But some are more equal than others. This sets a bad precedent.” He also pleaded that “The Trial Court says that it will not consider since the High Court is examing. The Supreme Court also says it will not examine as the High Court is examing. Kindly say our predicament. We are left remediless.” Answering all the contentions, the bench told the SG to raise all these issues before the Madras HC. Highlighting the medical situation of Senthil Balaji, Senior Advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing for Balaji, said he had four cardigan blockages and is currently in a post-operative stage. He added, “A bogey is raised that I got myself admitted. I was taken by them and was examined by a panel of government doctors.” 

After hearing the matter, the bench ordered, “The High Court is yet to render its final opinion on the following issues: (i) Re. maintainability of the Habeas Corpus Petition; (ii) The exclusion of the period of treatment undergone by the detenu from the period of custodial interrogation. Since both these issues are likely to be examined by the High Court on the date fixed, i.e., 22-06-2023 or soon thereafter, we deem it appropriate to post these Special Leave petitions for further hearing on 04-07-2023. It is clarified that the pendency of these Special Leave Petitions shall not be taken as a ground to adjourn the matter, pending adjudication before the High Court. The observations made by the High Court in the interim order dated 15-06-2023 or any oral observation made by this Court during the course of hearing shall have no bearing on the merits of the case.”

Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji underwent bypass surgery and was hemodynamically stable. Dr. Aravindan Selvaraj (co-founder and executive director of Kauvery Group of Hospitals) said that “Four bypass grafts were placed and coronary revascularization was established.” He added, “He is currently hemodynamically stable and being monitored in the postoperative intensive care unit by the multidisciplinary team of doctors and nurses."