The Minister for Electricity, Prohibition and Excise in Tamil Nadu, V Senthil Balaji was taken into custody by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday (June 14). The arrest was related to a scandal that unfolded during 2014-15, involving the illicit exchange of employment for monetary gains, which had created widespread turmoil in the state.
According to reports, Balaji has been arrested under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The investigation revolves around allegations of his involvement in a fraudulent scheme that operated within the state’s transportation department. It is claimed that between 2011 and 2015, during Balaji’s tenure as the transport minister in the AIADMK government led by J Jayalalithaa, he conspired with transport corporation officials to facilitate the exchange of employment opportunities for monetary benefits.
Following his arrest, Balaji complained of chest pain and was promptly admitted to the Omandurar government hospital in Chennai. Distressing television footage captured the moment when he was transported to the hospital, visibly in anguish and crying out in pain. Furthermore, his cabinet colleagues, who visited him after his admission, have alleged that he may have been subjected to torture.
Who is V Senthil Balaji?
V Senthil Balaji, born on October 21, 1975, hails from an agricultural family residing in Rameswarapatti, situated in Karur district. He received his primary education at Rameswarapatti Government School, Vivekananda School in Pasupathipalayam, and the municipal higher secondary School in Karur.
Balaji embarked on his political journey at a young age and has actively participated in politics since the early 2000s. His public service began in 1997 as a local body member, and he later achieved victory in the Karur constituency during the 2006 assembly elections as a member of the AIADMK party. Balaji served as the transport minister in the cabinet led by the late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa from 2011 to 2015 until his eventual removal.
In the 2016 elections, he emerged as an MLA representing the Aravakurichi constituency. After Jayalalithaa’s demise, Balaji played a crucial role in maintaining the government’s stability. Amidst the factional divisions within the AIADMK, he aligned himself with TTV Dhinakaran, the nephew of Jayalalithaa’s aide VK Sasikala. Balaji was among the 18 MLAs who faced disqualification in 2017 after appealing to then-Governor Banwarilal Purohit to change the chief minister.
Subsequently, on December 14, 2018, Balaji joined the DMK party in the presence of MK Stalin. Upon joining the party, he assumed the role of district secretary and later contested and won the by-election for the Aravakurichi constituency on May 23, 2019, securing his fourth term as an MLA. In the April 2021 assembly elections, Balaji once again emerged victorious, earning a seat in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. He currently serves as the Minister for Electricity, Prohibition & Excise.
The Money Laundering Case Against Balaji
Allegations against V Senthil Balaji pertain to his tenure as the transport minister in the AIADMK government. It is alleged that he was involved in a kickback scheme, wherein he received illicit payments from individuals seeking employment as drivers and conductors in transport corporations. Balaji is accused of colluding with transport corporation officials to issue appointment orders to candidates recommended by his associates, all while allegedly accepting bribes for job placements in various transport corporations, including the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) in Chennai.
Multiple First Information Reports (FIRs) were filed against Balaji, and subsequent chargesheets were submitted, awaiting trial in a special court dedicated to criminal cases involving Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). The case also implicates retired and serving officers of 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 as the Assembly elections approached.
In May 2023, the Supreme Court authorized the police and ED to conduct an investigation into the alleged cash-for-jobs scandal involving Balaji, a prominent figure in the DMK from Karur. This decision overturned a previous ruling by the Madras High Court on September 1, 2022, which dismissed the ED’s summonses issued to Balaji and others in connection with the PMLA case.
Balaji’s arrest has sparked discontent within the ruling DMK party, with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and party leader MK Stalin accusing the ED of orchestrating a “drama” under the guise of an investigation. Opposition parties, including the Congress, have also criticized the actions of the ED.