SC asks Madras HC to place TN minister Balaji’s habeas corpus plea before 3-judge bench

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Madras High Court to place the habeas corpus petition of arrested Tamil Nadu minister V Senthil Balaji before three judges “at the earliest” in view of a split verdict pronounced earlier in the day.

A bench of justices Surya Kant and Dipankar Datta also told the Madras High Court chief justice that Balaji’s petition should be decided by the new bench expeditiously.

Earlier on Tuesday, a Madras High Court division bench of justices J Nisha Banu and D Bharatha Chakravarthy pronounced the split verdict on the habeas corpus petition filed by Balaji’s wife against her husband’s “illegal detention”.

The high court bench also directed the registry to place the matter before the chief justice for assigning it to a three-judge bench.

At the outset, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Enforcement Directorate, told the top court bench that since a split verdict has been pronounced by the high court, the matter be transferred to the apex court for final adjudication.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Balaji, said that after a split verdict by a division bench, the matter is placed before a three-judge bench and opposed Mehta’s request.

The bench said it would request the high court for adjudication of questions of law at the earliest and posted the matter for further hearing on July 24.

On June 21, in a relief to Balaji, the top court had refused to stay a Madras High Court order allowing to shift him to a private hospital for treatment notwithstanding a fervent request by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

The ED, which arrested Balaji in connection with an alleged cash-for-jobs scam in the state’s transport department, had moved the apex court against the high court order.

Balaji, 47, underwent coronary bypass surgery at a private hospital in Chennai on Wednesday and is said to be doing fine.

The apex court’s vacation bench headed by Justice Surya Kant had noted that the habeas corpus petition filed by Balaji’s wife against his “illegal” arrest was still pending in the high court and asked the ED to approach it.

It had noted that the high court was yet to pronounce its final judgement on the maintainability of the habeas corpus petition and the ED’s request for exclusion of the period of Balaji’s stay in hospital from the duration of remand granted by the trial court for custodial interrogation.

Bajali, the electricity and prohibition and excise minister of Tamil Nadu, was arrested on June 14 under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in an alleged cash-for-jobs scam that took place when he was the transport minister in an AIADMK government led by J Jayalalithaa.

The high court had earlier passed an interim order for shifting the minister to a private hospital after his wife filed the habeas corpus petition.

In its plea before the top court, the ED said the high court erred in entertaining the habeas corpus petition and claimed it was not maintainable as a judicial order had already been passed remanding Balaji in the custody of the federal anti-money laundering agency.

The HC had on June 15 allowed the minister, who was then undergoing treatment at a government hospital following his arrest, to be shifted to a private facility.

It also issued a notice to the ED on the main plea of the “illegal” arrest of Balaji and posted the matter to June 22.

The high court had said Balaji would continue to remain in judicial custody and allowed the probe agency to have its own team of doctors examine the minister.