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Supreme Court Declines to Interfere with Madras HC's Decision on TN Minister Senthil Balaji's Habeas Corpus Petition in Money Laundering Case

By Harshvardhan Sharma      22 June, 2023 09:27 PM      0 Comments
Supreme Court Declines to Interfere with Madras HC's Decision on TN Minister Senthil Balaji's Habeas Corpus Petition in Money Laundering Case

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to interfere for now with Madras High Court's decision to consider a habeas corpus petition after arrest of Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji in connection with a money laundering case in a cash-for-job scam.

A vacation bench of Justices Surya Kant and M M Sundresh said the High Court has posted the matter for hearing on June 22 including on the issue of maintainability of habeas corpus petition filed by the Minister's wife.

"As of now, we have no reason to doubt the ability of the High Court and that it will not appreciate the correct position in law. The High Courts are very robust institutions. They are also constitutional courts. We are fully confident that the High Court is competent to decide as per the correct proposition of law," the bench said.

The court deferred the petitions filed by the Enforcement Directorate for consideration on July 4 as it noted that the High Court is yet to render its final judgement on maintainability of habeas corpus petition and the exclusion of the period of treatment undergone by Balaji from the period of custodial interrogation.

The bench also clarified that the High Court should decide the matter on merits, unimpeded by the pendency of matter before the Supreme Court.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing contended that the High Court has created a wrong precedent by entertaining a habeas corpus petition filed by Balaji’s wife challenging the minister’s arrest by ED on June 14.

"The High Court has not only entertained the petition but also issued some orders for shifting him to a private hospital. The High Court had to necessarily decide first whether a habeas corpus petition can ever be maintainable against an order of arrest and an order of remand by a court,” Mehta submitted.

"This sets a very wrong precedent. All are equal before the law but some are more than the others," he said.

The bench, however, said that the High Court had on June 15, had itself used a very guarded language and said it would determine whether a habeas corpus petition can be maintainable and therefore, there is no reason to prevent the High Court from deciding the issue.

"Entertaining and maintainability are two different issues...we cannot pass order on mere apprehension," the bench said.

The bench also said any order by it would prevent the High Court from rendering a judgement after considering all the issues.

"Nobody can deprive you of your right to get the remand of a person whose bail has been declined. It is only a question of timing. The only question is that whether the remand should wait until the person who is undergoing some treatment is fit to be interrogated. We are confident that the High Court will consider everything and pass an order,” the bench told Mehta.

The ED's counsel also submitted the period of 15 days granted under the law for custodial interrogation should not be affected due to the hospitalisation of Balaji. The investigating agency should not be rendered remediless, he submitted.

"Today is not the stage to say it. To say it will mean we don’t trust our own institutions. Wait for that situation to come. You have made out a case and we will examine it. We are keeping your petitions pending here. Whichever way the High Court decides, one or the other side will approach this Court and we can then decide it,” the bench said.

The bench also assured the ED that the investigating agency can't be deprived of its statutory right of taking an accused on custodial interrogation.

Senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing for Balaji and his wife, contended it was unfortunate that the Enforcement Directorate claimed that he had feigned illness.

On Wednesday, Balaji underwent a coronary artery bypass at Chennai’s Kauvery Hospital.

Balaji, 47, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the early hours of June 14 following an 18-hour interrogation regarding the  money laundering case.

Immediately upon his arrest, Balaji complained of chest pain and he was taken to a government hospital in Chennai, where he received a diagnosis of coronary artery disease. Subsequently, on the orders of the Madras High Court, he was transferred to the privately-run Kauvery Hospital.

His arrest stems from allegations of involvement in a cash-for-jobs scam that occurred during his tenure as the transport minister, when he was affiliated with the AIADMK party and served under the former chief minister J Jayalalithaa.

On May 16, the Supreme Court had allowed the police probe as well as the Enforcement Directorate investigation against Balaji in the scam of 2011-15. In the case, the complainants and the accused compromised, but the top court said that the investigation on graft charges can't be closed on this ground.



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