Cash-For-Job Scam: Trouble Mounts for DMK MLA Senthil Balaji as SC Reinstates Criminal Complaint Against him

Senthil Balaji Law Insider

Tanisha Rana

Published on: September 9, 2022 at 20:32 IST

Senthil Balaji, the current power minister for Tamil Nadu and a prominent member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), had a 2018 criminal complaint against him reinstated by the Supreme Court on Thursday [P Dharamaraj vs. Shanmugam and Ors.].

The High Court’s decision to dismiss the complaint, according to a panel of Justices S Abdul Nazeer and V Ramasubramanian, was incorrect and unjustifiable.

“It is needless to point out that corruption by a public servant is an offence against the State and the society at large. The Court cannot deal with cases involving abuse of official position and adoption of corrupt practices, like suits for specific performance, where the refund of the money paid may also satisfy the agreement holder,” the Court stated.

It is suspected that the minister, who was a former member of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), accepted funds for the 2014–2015 hiring of government bus drivers and conductors.

The accusation identified Balaji, who was at the time the State Minister of Transport, as well as his brother and political associates.

The initial complaint claimed that he had used payment to influence the selection of some people for the positions. He urged the accused to refund the money when such selections did not occur, but they threatened him.

The final police report indicting the accused for offences under Sections 406 (criminal breach of trust), 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant), 420 (cheating), and 506(1) (intent to incite) read with Section 34 (criminal act by several for common intention) of the Indian Penal Code was recorded by a Special Court to try cases against legislators (IPC).

The complainant and the victims who had paid money agreed to a settlement and backed the plea after one of the defendants filed a quashing petition before the Madras High Court.

It was argued that the lawsuit was merely a money dispute and that it had already been resolved amicably since the political rivalry that had first sparked the complaint only made matters worse.

The High Court has granted the petition for quashing, finding that, “by passage of time, the parties have decided to bury their hatchet and that no useful purpose would be achieved by keeping the criminal case pending”.

The current appeals were brought about as a result of a special leave petition filed by one P Dharamaraj, who was not a party to the High Court’s proceedings but had applied for the relevant positions at the time.

Those in positions comparable to Dharamaraj’s filed further petitions of this nature with the Supreme Court.

Before the Supreme Court, the petitioners’ attorney stated that it was startling to find that a case of this sort, where the bribe­giver and bribe­taker combined forces, could be settled on the basis of compromise.

It was argued that the prosecution was guilty of allowing the quashing by failing to include the offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PC Act) on the charge sheet.

The defence attorney for the respondents-accused claimed that no violation of the PC Act had been established, that the case was one of harassment brought on by political rivalry resulting from a personal disagreement, and that the petitioners lacked standing to challenge the High Court’s decision.

No one of the names for whom money was reportedly given was ultimately appointed, it was contended.

The Bench immediately remarked that the locus argument denied the “presence of the obvious” because all of the petitioners were harmed or victims.

It referred to the original/de-facto complainant’s acts as “deplorable,” “shocking,” and deserving of “something more than simply censure” since they called into doubt the locus and backed the quashing complaint through a compromise document.

Regarding the agreement, the Bench emphasised that the crime of a public employee’s criminal breach of trust is not one that may be compounded.

The highest court stated that the High Court’s rulings “affix a sign of approval” on the allegedly improper appointments made.

It was also determined that no PC Act violations had been shown, and that the Investigating Officer (IO) had omitted those violations from his final report since, in such cases, “the less stated the better.”

The Court remarked that given the accused’s precise modus operandi, “We are constrained to say that even a novice in criminal law would not have left the offences under the P.C. Act, out of the final report.”

“The attempt of the I.O. appears to be of one, “willing to strike but afraid to wound” (the opposite of what Alexander Pope wrote in “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot”).”

As a result, it reinstated the criminal complaint and gave the IO instructions to submit another report based on the findings.

“Additionally/alternatively, the Special Court before which the CC is pending, shall exercise power under Section 216 of the Cr.P.C., if there is any reluctance on the part of the State/I.O. If two other cases where offences under the P.C. Act are included, are under the orders of stay passed by the High Court, the State should take appropriate steps to have the stay vacated,” the Bench further ruled.

Since “we do hope that based on the observations mentioned above, the State itself may do the necessary,” the Bench indicated that it was not issuing any instructions regarding the requests made towards the formation of a Special Investigation Team or the appointment of a Special Public Prosecutor.

Siddharth Bhatnagar and Gopal Sankaranarayanan, two senior attorneys, represented Dharamaraj.

Prashant Bhushan, an attorney, spoke on behalf of the anti-corruption movement.

The respondents-accused were represented by senior attorneys Rakesh Dwivedi, Manan Kumar Mishra, CA Sundaram, and S Prabhakaran.

Before the trial court, senior attorney Mukul Rohatgi represented the initial complaint.

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