Senthil Balaji and the Cash-for-jobs Scam Case
On 14th June 2023, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested Senthil Balaji, the Electricity and Excise and Prohibition Minister of Tamil Nadu, for charges against him in the cash-for-jobs scam case under the provisions of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) after eighteen hours of questioning. However, the ED officials admitted him to the Omandurar Government Hospital after he complained of chest pain following the arrest.
Since 13th June 2023, ED has raided his house in Chennai and Karur. Moreover, the minister’s office at the secretariat was also raided simultaneously. Last month, the Income Tax (IT) Department officials raided various properties linked to the then-minister across multiple cities, including Chennai, Karur, and Coimbatore.
Background of Cash-for-jobs Scam Case
Senthil Balaji served as the transportation minister in the then Tamil Nadu CM J J Jayalalithaa’s cabinet from 2011 to 2015.
The case against Senthil Balaji revolves around alleged corruption in the recruitment process of various posts within the Metropolitan Transport Corporation in Tamil Nadu. The case dates back to November 2014 when the Transport Corporation issued advertisements for job openings. Complaints were lodged by individuals who claimed to have paid bribes to secure these positions but were not selected.
The cash-for-jobs scam came to light after a complaint filed by Devasagayam in 2015. Devasagayam, alleged that he paid a conductor named Palani to secure a job for his son as a conductor. When his son did not get the job and he demanded a refund, he was turned away. Similarly in 2016, Gopi filed another complaint claiming that he was approached by individuals claiming to be Senthil Balaji’s brother and brother-in-law, who demanded a bribe for securing his appointment. Gopi paid the bribe but did not get the job. Both complaints were initially filed with the police.
The high court intervened after Gopi’s complaint, noting that multiple similar complaints had been filed but no action had been taken beyond lower-level officers. The court directed the Assistant Commissioner of Police to take over the investigation and ordered the police to probe further and trace the money trail.
However, when the police filed their final report, neither Senthil Balaji nor his relatives were named as accused. The accused individuals were charged with offenses under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) related to criminal breach of trust, cheating, and conspiracy but not under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Similarly, Additional complaints were lodged by individuals alleging similar bribery practices, but the police did not invoke the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act in these cases either.
In 2019, a witness in one of the complaints filed a petition seeking further investigation, stating that the police had not followed the directions of the high court. The court directed the Assistant Commissioner of Police to conduct a thorough investigation and include the offenses under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The case took a political turn as the political climate changed in the state, and Senthil Balaji continued to hold a position in the cabinet. Some of the accused individuals filed petitions seeking to quash the police’s final report, claiming a compromise had been reached with the victims. The high court quashed one of the final reports based on a Joint Compromise Memo, without considering the nature of the allegations or previous orders.
Meanwhile, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) registered a case and issued summons to Senthil Balaji. The ED sought certified copies of the FIRs, complaints, and statements of witnesses and accused from the Trial Court. The Trial Court granted the supply of certified copies but refused to provide certified copies of unmarked documents. The ED filed petitions before the high court, which allowed an inspection and third-party copy applications for the documents.
Several writ petitions were filed by Senthil Balaji, his PA, and his brother challenging the ED’s summons, citing the previous quashing of a case by the high court and the stay on further proceedings in other cases.
The matter eventually reached the Supreme Court, which directed the police to investigate the case under the Prevention of Corruption Act on 16th March 2023. The court also allowed the ED to probe the case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
Aftermath of Arrest
On 14th June 2023, following the arrest of Balaji, the District & Sessions Court remanded the accused minister to judicial custody for two weeks till 28th June 2023.
On 14th June 2023, Balaji’s wife filed a habeas corpus petition in the Madras High Court, which will be taken on 22nd June 2023. The habeas corpus petition, filed by Balaji’s wife, accused the ED officials of arresting Balaji without serving any notice or summons.
The minister filed an interim bail plea seeking the rejection of the District & Sessions Court remand order in the Madras High Court, which was heard, and the high court denied the interim bail plea on 15th June 2023. Moreover, the High Court order allowed the request to shift the minister from Omandur Government Hospital to Kauvery Hospital (a private hospital in Chennai).
On 16th June 2023, the Chennai Sessions Court granted eight days of custody for ED to interrogate the minister till 23rd June 2023. However, according to the order, the ED cannot take Balaji outside the hospital. Thus, the ED could probe the minister at the hospital.
On 16th June 2023, the Tamil Nadu Government reallocated Balaji’s portfolios to the other existing ministers. However, Balaji continues to be a minister in the State Cabinet without any portfolio.