4 July 2023 8:48 AM GMT
The Supreme Court of India on Tuesday once again adjourned the hearing in a set of appeals preferred by the Enforcement Directorate against orders of the Madras High Court in a habeas corpus petition filed against the arrest of Tamil Nadu minister V Senthil Balaji in connection with a cash-for-jobs scam in the state. This development came hours after a two-judge bench of the high court...
The Supreme Court of India on Tuesday once again adjourned the hearing in a set of appeals preferred by the Enforcement Directorate against orders of the Madras High Court in a habeas corpus petition filed against the arrest of Tamil Nadu minister V Senthil Balaji in connection with a cash-for-jobs scam in the state. This development came hours after a two-judge bench of the high court delivered a split verdict with respect to the question of whether the legislator's arrest amounted to illegal detention.
A division bench of the apex court comprising Justices Surya Kant and Dipankar Datta refused to heed the request of the central agency to decide the questions of law involved in the case and opted to continue waiting for the outcome of the litigation pending before the high court, as it had done earlier. However, the Supreme Court requested the Madras High Court Chief Justice to place the habeas corpus petition filed by Senthil Balaji's wife Megala before a larger bench at the earliest for an expeditious decision.
Solicitor-General of India Tushar Mehta attempted to convince the court to hear the appeals and finally decide the matter. He said:
"Ultimately, there are questions of law that will have to be decided by this court - whether a habeas corpus petition would lie after a judicial order of remand is intervened, and whether the period that the accused spends in a hospital on medical grounds can be excluded from the calculation of the prescribed 15 days that he may be kept in custody. Please hear the matter and decide it, rather than it going to a three-judge bench of the high court. Every day that the respondent remains in the hospital, there would be tampering of evidence. In these kind of situations where an influential person is the accused, the damage is irreversible."
However, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing on behalf of the arrested MLA, protested, saying:
"How can the high court be bypassed like this? There is a split verdict and the matter has to go to a third judge, since this court had said that it would wait for the high court to decide it first. Under what circumstances can you bring it to this court now?"
After hearing the contentions of both sides, the bench said that it would request the high court's chief justice to place it before a three-judge combination at the earliest. "We request the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court to place the matter before a larger bench at the earliest and further request to the assigned bench to decide the case as early as possible. The pendency of the special leave petition will have no bearing on proceedings before the high court," Justice Kant pronounced. The bench also agreed to clarify that Balaji would remain in custody in the meantime.
The matter will be heard next by the top court on Monday, July 24.
In June, DMK leader V Senthil Balaji and cabinet minister in the MK Stalin-led Tamil Nadu government was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate for his alleged role in a cash-for-job scam in the state, which is believed to have taken place between 2011-2016 during his tenure as the transportation minister under the then-AIADMK regime. This development came after the Supreme Court in May set aside a direction of the Madras High Court staying the proceedings in the money laundering case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate, effectively removing all fetters to the ED investigation. The top court also gave a nod to the agency to include the offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act in the investigation.
In the same month, the Madras High Court denied interim bail to Balaji but allowed his family’s request to transfer him to a private hospital. Balaji was arrested by the central agency after an 18-hour-long extensive search and interrogation conducted at his official residence, his official chamber at the state secretariat and his brother’s residence. After the minister’s arrest, his wife filed a habeas corpus petition before the high court praying, inter alia, that the legislator be allowed to be shifted to a private hospital to undergo medical treatment.
The Enforcement Directorate challenged the high court agreeing to take the petition on board and passing an interim order before the Supreme Court, arguing that it was not maintainable. But a vacation bench of the top court adjourned the hearing in the central agency’s plea, choosing to wait for the high court to deliver its verdict first. However, the high court delivered a split verdict today, with Justice Nisha Banu observing that the petition was maintainable and that ED was not entitled to seek police custody, while Justice Bharatha Chakravarthy held that Balaji's arrest did not amount to illegal detention. This matter will now be heard by a three-judge bench constituted by the chief justice.
The State Rep by Deputy Director v. Megala & Anr. | Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No. 7437 of 2023 and another connected matter
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