Who is Tamil Nadu minister V Senthil Balaji, whom the ED has arrested?
After a marathon questioning session, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday (June 14) arrested Senthil Balaji, the Tamil Nadu minister for electricity, prohibition and excise, in an old job-for-cash scam case that had shaken the state in 2014-15.
Balaji has been arrested under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), official sources told PTI. He is likely to be produced before a special court later where the ED will seek his custody.
The probe pertains to Balaji’s alleged role in a job-for-cash fraud that allegedly took place in the state’s transportation department between 2011-2015, while Balaji served as the transport minister in the J Jayalalitha-led AIADMK government.
Soon after his arrest, Balaji was admitted to the Omandurar government hospital in Chennai after he complained of chest pain. Television visuals show him crying in pain as he was carried to the hospital in a vehicle.
Cabinet colleagues who visited Balaji after his admission have also alleged that he displayed signs of torture.
Who is Senthil Balaji?
Born on October 21, 1975, Balaji hails from an agricultural family in Rameswarapatti in Karur district. He did his schooling from Rameswarapatti Government School, Vivekananda School in Pasupathypalayam, and municipal higher secondary School in Karur.
He began his political career early, at the age of 21 and has been actively involved in politics since the early 2000s.
In 1997, Balaji began his public service as a local body member. As a AIADMK cadre, he was elected to the Karur constituency in the 2006 assembly elections. He served as the minister for transport in former chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s cabinet from 2011 until 2015, after which he was dropped from the cabinet.
In the 2016 elections, he was elected as an MLA from the Aravakurichi constituency.
Following Jayalalithaa’s demise, Balaji played a significant role in saving the government. When the AIADMK split into factions, he aligned himself with TTV Dhinakaran, nephew of Jayalalithaa’s aide VK Sasikala. On September 18, 2017, Balaji was one of the 18 MLAs who were disqualified by then Speaker P Dhanapal for petitioning then governor Banwarilal Purohit, to change the chief minister.
On December 14, 2018, he joined the DMK in the presence of MK Stalin. Soon after joining the party, he was appointed as the district secretary and later announced as the DMK candidate in the by-election to the Aravakurichi constituency. He successfully won the election on May 23, 2019, marking his fourth term as an MLA.
Balaji won the assembly elections held in April 2021, and currently, he serves as a member of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and holds the position of minister for electricity, prohibition & excise.
What is the money laundering case against Balaji?
It is alleged that during V Senthil Balaji’s tenure as the transport minister in the AIADMK government, he had received kickbacks from various persons for appointing them as drivers and conductors in the transport corporations. It is alleged that he conspired with transport corporation officials to issue appointment orders for candidates recommended by his aides, and allegedly taking bribes for job appointments in various transport corporations, including MTC, Chennai.
Three FIRs were registered against Balaji and later chargesheets were filed against him, which were pending before a special court for the trial of criminal cases connected to MPs and MLAs. Others charged in the case included senior retired and serving officers of the transport corporations.
The ED registered a PMLA case against Balaji and others in March 2021 and took up the investigation on the eve of the Assembly elections.
In May 2023, the Supreme Court cleared the way for an investigation and allowed police and ED to investigate the alleged cash-for-jobs scam against DMK’s Karur strongman. The SC had overturned a previous decision by the Madras High Court on September 1, 2022, dismissing ED summons sent to Balaji and others concerning the PMLA case.
His arrest has left the ruling DMK miffed and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and party chief MK Stalin has accused the ED of enacting a “drama” in the name of investigation. Opposition parties, including the Congress have also censured the ED.