EXPLAINED: Who Is Senthil Balaji, Hospitalised Tamil Nadu Minister, And Why Has ED Arrested Him?

EXPLAINED: Who Is Senthil Balaji, Hospitalised Tamil Nadu Minister, And Why Has ED Arrested Him?

The arrest relates to a past scandal involving an illicit exchange of employment for monetary gains, which had caused significant upheaval in the state during 2014-15.

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Wednesday, June 14, 2023, 08:27 PM IST

Following an extensive questioning, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) took Tamil Nadu's Minister for Electricity, Prohibition, and Excise, Senthil Balaji, into custody on Wednesday (June 14). The arrest relates to a past scandal involving an illicit exchange of employment for monetary gains, which had caused significant upheaval in the state during 2014-15.

Balaji has been reportedly arrested under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

The investigation revolves around the purported involvement of Balaji in a fraudulent scheme involving the exchange of employment for monetary benefits within the state's transportation department. The alleged incidents occurred between 2011 and 2015, during Balaji's tenure as the transport minister in the AIADMK government led by J Jayalalitha.

After his arrested, Balaji was promptly admitted to the Omandurar government hospital in Chennai due to complaints of chest pain. Television footage depicted him in distress, crying out in agony as he was transported to the hospital in a vehicle.

Cabinet colleagues, upon visiting Balaji subsequent to his admission, have additionally raised allegations of torture.

Who is Senthil Balaji?

Balaji, born on October 21, 1975, originates from an agricultural family residing in Rameswarapatti, located in Karur district. He pursued his primary education at Rameswarapatti Government School, Vivekananda School in Pasupathypalayam, and municipal higher secondary School in Karur.

At the young age of 21, Balaji embarked on his political journey and has actively engaged in politics since the early 2000s.

In 1997, he commenced his public service as a local body member. As a member of the AIADMK party, he secured victory in the Karur constituency during the 2006 assembly elections. From 2011 to 2015, he served as the transport minister in the cabinet led by former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, until he was eventually removed from the cabinet.

In the 2016 elections, Balaji triumphed as an MLA representing the Aravakurichi constituency.

After the passing of Jayalalithaa, Balaji played a significant role in preserving the government's stability. Amid the factional divisions within the AIADMK, he aligned himself with TTV Dhinakaran, who is the nephew of Jayalalithaa's aide VK Sasikala. On September 18, 2017, Balaji was among the 18 MLAs who faced disqualification by then-Speaker P Dhanapal. The disqualification was a result of their appeal to then-Governor Banwarilal Purohit to change the chief minister.

Subsequently, on December 14, 2018, Balaji joined the DMK in the presence of MK Stalin. Upon joining the party, he assumed the role of district secretary and was later announced as the DMK candidate in the by-election for the Aravakurichi constituency. He emerged victorious in the election on May 23, 2019, securing his fourth term as an MLA.

In the April 2021 assembly elections, Balaji emerged triumphant once again, thereby becoming a member of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. Presently, he serves as the Minister for Electricity, Prohibition & Excise.

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 was involved in a kickback scheme. It is claimed that he received illicit payments from individuals seeking employment as drivers and conductors in the transport corporations. Allegedly, Balaji conspired with transport corporation officials to issue appointment orders for candidates recommended by his associates, while allegedly accepting bribes for job placements in various transport corporations, including MTC in Chennai.

Multiple First Information Reports (FIRs) were filed against Balaji, and subsequent chargesheets were submitted, which were awaiting trial in a special court dedicated to criminal cases involving MPs and MLAs. Other individuals implicated in the case included retired and serving officers of the transport corporations.

In March 2021, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) initiated a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) against Balaji and others, assuming responsibility for the investigation on the eve of the Assembly elections.

In May 2023, the Supreme Court authorised the police and ED to conduct an investigation into the alleged cash-for-jobs scandal involving DMK's influential figure from Karur. The decision reversed a previous ruling by the Madras High Court on September 1, 2022, which had dismissed the ED's summonses issued to Balaji and others in connection with the PMLA case.

Balaji's arrest has caused dissatisfaction within the ruling DMK party, and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and party leader MK Stalin have accused the ED of orchestrating a "drama" in the name of the investigation. Opposition parties, including the Congress, have also criticised the actions of the ED.

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