The Supreme Court of India has granted an extension to the Tamil Nadu Government to complete the investigation into the Cash-for-Jobs Scam till September 30, 2023. The ‘Tamil Nadu Cash-for-Jobs Scam’ case concerns the allegations against the DMK MLA V Senthil Balaji, among other government officials, for taking bribes in exchange for appointments to the state transport corporation between 2011 and 2015.
The court’s Division Bench, comprising Justices Vikram Nath and Ahsanuddin Amanullah, was hearing the Tamil Nadu Government’s application seeking an extension of time to complete the investigation and filing of reports. The apex court has also made it clear that no further application for an extension of time would be entertained. The court further said that in the event, the court’s directions are not complied with, a Special Investigation Team would be constituted.
“Considering the facts and circumstances of the case and the submissions advanced by the learned senior counsel, we grant one more opportunity by extending the time till 30th September, 2023. It is made clear that no further application for extension of time would be entertained and in the event, the above mentioned directions are not complied with, the same may be brought to the notice of this Court and in that case the Special Investigation Team would be constituted,” the court said in its order dated August 8.
The DMK Government’s counsel, Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta, submitted that there are five categories of appointments which were to be investigated – Junior Engineer, Assistant Engineer, Junior Tradesman, Driver and Conductor. He requested the court to grant a six-month extension. While the investigation into the appointment of Junior Engineers and Assistant Engineers is complete, he submitted that the government needs time to investigate other appointments.
Meanwhile, the counsel for the original appellants objected to the Tamil Nadu Government’s request for granting an extension of time. The counsel argued that it is time for the court to appoint a SIT as the DMK Government has failed to ensure compliance with the court’s directions. The counsel argued that there had been a “deliberate slackness” on the part of the investigation agency to complete the investigation, and thus, an SIT needs to be constituted. The counsel submitted that the only effort on the part of the Tamil Nadu Government is to delay the investigation and trial.
The apex court held that the DMK Government’s ask for a six-month extension is “totally unreasonable” and that the extension of time cannot be more than the initial period fixed by the Supreme Court. “In any case, it is submitted that six months’ time is too excessive and if this Court feels that any reasonable time may be granted, the Court may fix the same accordingly. We had expressed our displeasure to Shri Gupta, learned senior counsel asking for six months’ time, which is totally unreasonable, inasmuch as in the original order itself this Court granted two months’ time. Any further extension of time cannot be more than the period fixed in the original order passed by this Court,” the court said.
On May 16, the Supreme Court allowed a batch of petitions challenging the Madras High Court’s order directing a fresh investigation into the Cash-for-Jobs Scam. The court had said that the investigating officer could continue their probe and that the request for an SIT would be taken up at a later date. The apex court granted two-months’ time to complete the investigation.
“The Investigation Officer shall proceed with further investigation in all cases by including the offences under the PC Act [Prevention Of Corruption Act, 1988]. Any let up on the part of the Investigation Officer in this regard will pave the way for this Court to consider appointing a Special Investigation Team in future,” the Supreme Court said in the May 16 order.
Notably, on August 7, the Supreme Court dismissed DMK MLA Senthil Balaji’s plea challenging the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) right to seek custody in the money laundering case related to the ‘Tamil Nadu Cash-for-Jobs Scam.’ The court’s Division Bench, comprising Justices AS Bopanna and MM Sundresh, dismissed the pleas challenging Madras High Court’s decision wherein the court held that the ED’s right to seek custody could not be denied.
“It had been held in Vijay Madanlal that ED are not police officials, but nowhere it was said that they cannot take custody. If investigation requires custody, then custody can be sought as a matter of right,” the Madras High Court’s verdict read.
The apex court had further held that the writ of habeas corpus is not maintainable against ED’s arrest and that the order of remand cannot be challenged in a habeas corpus petition. The court said that if there has been a violation of procedure as prescribed u/s 19 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, then action can be taken against the concerned officer u/s 62 of the PMLA.