T.N. Minister Senthilbalaji’s arrest | Madras High Court delivers split verdict on legality of arrest, case to be heard by a third judge

Justice J. Nisha Banu declared the June 14 arrest of the Minister in a money-laundering case to be illegal, and ordered him to be set at liberty, but Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy differed; the case will now be heard by a third judge to be named by Chief Justice S.V. Ganagapurwala

Updated - July 04, 2023 06:36 pm IST

Published - July 04, 2023 11:08 am IST - CHENNAI

Tamil Nadu Minister V. Senthilbalaji was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on June 14, 2023. File

Tamil Nadu Minister V. Senthilbalaji was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on June 14, 2023. File | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

The Madras High Court on July 4 delivered a split verdict on a habeas corpus petition (HCP) filed by the wife of Minister V. Senthilbalaji who was arrested by the Directorate of Enforcement (ED) on June 14, 2023, in a money laundering case and remains in a private hospital now, under judicial custody.

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One of the judges, Justice J. Nisha Banu, allowed Megala’s HCP, held it to be maintainable despite a judicial remand order having been passed by a Sessions Judge on June 14 and ordered to set the Minister at liberty forthwith due to the ED’s failure to follow the legal procedures established by law before arresting him.

Consequently, the judge also held that the ED would not be entitled to subject Mr. V. Senthilbalaji to custodial interrogation.

On the other hand, Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy, sharing the Division Bench along with her, disagreed and dismissed the HCP after holding it to be not maintainable.

Justice Chakravarthy said, a HCP would not be maintainable except in cases of absolute illegality or total non-application of mind or lack of jurisdiction or wholesale disregard to fundamental rights. In the present issue, the petitioner had not made out any such case for the court to exercise its extraordinary powers, he added.

“I have held that the petitioner has not made out any case for exercise of the powers under Article 226 of the Constitution to release him or to hold that the remand is illegal or in violation of any of his fundamental rights. Therefore, the habeas corpus petition is liable to be dismissed,” the judge said.

He further pointed out that Justice Banu and himself had passed an interim order on June 15 to shift the Minister from Tamil Nadu Government Multi Super Speciality Hospital at Omandurar Estate in Chennai (where he was admitted due to chest pain immediately after his arrest at 1:39 am on June 14) to Kauvery Hospital, a private institution.

Pursuant to the shift, the ED was unable to subject the Minister to custodial interrogation even for a minute till date. Therefore, Justice Chakravarthy ordered the Minister could continue to be in the private hospital only for 10 more days or till discharge, whichever was earlier, and thereafter admitted in prison hospital, if required.

He also made it clear that the limitation period of first 15 days from the date of arrest for subjecting a person to custodial interrogation shall be relaxed in the case of the Minister and that the ED could take out an application before an appropriate court for subjecting him to interrogation after he becomes medically fit.

The habeas corpus petition was filed at 10:30 am on June 14 questioning the legality of the arrest on various grounds including ED’s failure to issue notice of appearance under Section 41A of Code of Criminal Procedure before resorting to arrest. The petition was listed before a Bench of Justices M. Sundar and R. Sakthivel on that day.

However, Justice Sakthivel recused himself from hearing the case and by that time, Principal Sessions Judge S. Alli visited the government hospital and remanded the Minister in judicial custody at 3:45 pm on June 14. When the HCP was listed before the Bench led by Justice Banu on June 15, it ordered his shifting to the private hospital.

Thereafter, the Bench heard elaborate arguments advanced by senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi and N.R. Elango for the petitioner and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General AR.L. Sundaresan on behalf of the ED on the maintainability of the HCP as well as the merits of the case and reserved its orders on June 27.

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