A bench of Justices AS Bopanna and MM Sundresh sought a response from the ED and posted the matter for hearing on July 26 at 2 pm. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Balaji, sought interim protection from police custody, however, the bench declined to pass any such order by orally saying that “nothing will happen”.
The apex court today also heard a plea by the ED, which contended that the High Court had erred in even entertaining the habeas corpus petition filed by the minister’s wife.
The Madras High Court on July 14 held legal the arrest of Balaji by the ED, and subsequent judicial custody granted by a lower court on money laundering charges against him linked to the cash-for-jobs scam. The High Court order came on the habeas corpus petition filed by Megala, wife of Senthil Balaji.
The High Court found the habeas corpus plea not maintainable in law. It further clarified that time spent by Balaji under medical treatment in a private hospital would be excluded from the period of custody allowed to the ED.
The ED had arrested Senthil Balaji last month in connection with the cash-for-jobs scam that occurred in the state’s transport department, and he continues to be a Minister without a portfolio.
The ED had earlier approached the apex court, contending that the Madras High Court erred in entertaining a habeas corpus petition filed by Balaji’s wife and allowing him to be moved to a private hospital in Chennai from the government hospital following his arrest by the ED.
After a division bench of the Madras High Court gave a split verdict on the habeas corpus plea filed by Balaji’s wife for his release in a case registered by ED, the Supreme Court asked the Chief Justice of the High Court to place the matter before the three-judge bench at the earliest.
The Minister for Electricity as well as Prohibition and Excise, Balaji, was arrested on June 14 and admitted to a government hospital in Chennai after he complained of chest pain. He was allowed by the Madras High Court on June 15 to be shifted to a private hospital of his choice.
He was later taken from the Tamil Nadu government’s Multi Super Speciality Hospital to Kauvery Hospital at Alwarpet. Doctors attending to him have recommended bypass surgery.
The interim order of the High Court was passed on a habeas corpus petition filed by the Minister’s wife, who accused probe agency officials of not having followed due procedures, such as intimating the grounds of arrest, under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). His wife wanted the arrest itself to be declared illegal.
The ED had arrested Balaji in connection with an Enforcement Case Information Register (ECIR) filed under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act in 2021.
The ECIR was registered on the basis of three FIRs lodged against him by the local police in 2018 for his alleged involvement in a cash-for-job case when he was the Transport Minister in Jayalalithaa’s Cabinet in 2015.
The charges date back to his tenure as transport minister during the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government from 2011 to 2015.
He joined the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in December 2018 and assumed office as the Electricity Minister after the party came to power in May 2021.