Senthilbalaji bail plea | How can he continue as Minister, asks Justice Anand Venkatesh of Madras High Court

Even a last grade government employee is deemed to have been suspended from service if he/she remains in prison for more than 48 hours in a criminal case, says judge

January 30, 2024 07:19 pm | Updated 08:28 pm IST - CHENNAI

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh 

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh 

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court on Tuesday questioned the propriety behind V. Senthilbalaji continuing to be a Minister without portfolio despite having been imprisoned for over 230 days in a money laundering case booked by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

The judge wondered how a person could be allowed to continue in the Cabinet even after incarceration for so long when even the last grade employee of the State is deemed to have been suspended from service if he/she remains incarcerated for more than 48 hours in a criminal case.

V. Senthil Balaji

V. Senthil Balaji | Photo Credit: J

“When such is the severity shown in the case of a government employee, here you have a person who is continuing to be a Minister without portfolio when he is inside the prison. What type of a message are you giving to the public?” the judge asked senior counsel C. Aryama Sundaram representing the Minister.

He raised the question during the hearing of a bail petition filed by the Minister. The judge pointed out that the previous bail petition filed solely on health grounds was dismissed by Justice G. Jayachandran of the High Court in October 2023 after taking into account his continuation in the Cabinet.

However, there was no change in circumstance even now as far as that issue was concerned since the petitioner was still continuing as a Minister without portfolio, Justice Venkatesh said.

Mr. Sundaram replied the petitioner was now seeking bail on the prime ground that the ED had completed the investigation substantially and collected all documents required by it. If the argument of the petitioner continuing in the Cabinet was to be put against him even at this stage, “then it will become difficult for anybody in a high place to get bail,” he said.

Justice Venkatesh clarified he was raising the issue and not the ED. Special Public Prosecutor N. Ramesh had not even opened his mouth so far on the bail plea, the judge said.

“I always believe in being more frank. I will tell what is running in my mind so that it is much easier for you,” the judge said. He recalled that even the first Division Bench of the High Court led by its Chief Justice Sanjay V. Gangapurwala had in September 2023 observed that a Minister without portfolio is a constitutional travesty even though the law does not permit a court to order removal of such a Minister.

“I don’t want to get into the politics behind his continuation in the Cabinet because I am much, much away from that but what I am saying is that it does not augur well for the system... This is something which is disturbing me and therefore I thought I should not keep it to myself... I think better sense must prevail in this case because that will have a real bearing if ultimately a decision is taken in that regard,” the judge told the senior counsel.

Assuring the judge that he had understood the purport behind the judge expressing his mind, Mr. Sundaram said though the petitioner being a Minister might be a relevant consideration while deciding his bail application, the propriety behind continuing him as a Minister might not be a relevant consideration. He agreed to make his submissions on the issue after issuance of notice to the ED.

The judge agreed to hear both sides elaborately on February 14 and directed Mr. Ramesh to ensure a counter affidavit was filed by then.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.