CHENNAI: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday arrested Tamil Nadu Electricity Minister V Senthil Balaji under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) after a long session of questioning.
However, the Tamil Nadu minister has been hospitalised in the ICU of a government hospital here early on Wednesday after he complained of uneasiness during ED raids at his premises on June 13.
Initially, Senthil Balaji was taken into custody by the ED after 18 hours of questioning by the Central agency. It is learnt that while he was being taken into custody at 2 am, the minister complained of chest pain and was taken to the multi-speciality hospital in Omandurar Estate.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister MK Stalin huddled with senior colleagues and legal experts at his residence about the next course of action. Since Senthil Balaji is holding key portfolios that need constant monitoring, the portfolios are likely to be given to one or two senior ministers in the cabinet until Balaji is out of the legal hurdles he is facing. There are chances that Senthil Balaji may continue as a minister without portfolio for some time and depending on what the legal turns the case against him takes in the coming days.
According to reports, Balaji was being taken to the central agency's office in Nungambakkam for further interrogation. But within a few seconds, the situation changed as he was seen screaming in pain holding his chest. TV visuals showed Balaji being uneasy while being brought to the hospital in the wee hours of this morning. The DMK minister was seen in the very same dress he wore when he returned to his home on Tuesday morning after hearing the news about ED officials were searching his house.
The arrest sparked concern in the DMK camp as ministers, PK Sekar Babu, and Udayanidi Stalin rushed to the hospital to meet the minister. Sekar Babu claimed there were 'symptoms' Balaji has been 'tortured.'
After visiting Senthil Balaji at the hospital, HR and CE minister Sekar Babu said that the electricity minister was unconscious. "He didn't respond despite calling his name several times. There is swelling on his leg. The state he was brought to the hospital shows there are human rights violations," Sekar Babu said.
He also alleged that the enforcement directorate, CBI and the income tax department are acting at the behest of the central government against those opposing the bad politics of the central government.
"Several leaders, including chief ministers of other states and the parliamentary opposition leader, condemning the union government shows there is opposition centrally. DMK government, led by MK Stalin, will face the problem legally. More than a minister, Senthil Balaji is a DMK worker. The CM will fight for every DMK worker to save him and all actions will be taken based on his guidance," the DMK minister told media persons.
Law minister S Reghupathy, who visited the hospital, also said there was no clarity if Balaji has been arrested. He questioned the need for the ED raids at Balaji's house running non-stop for hours.
DMK advocates, who visited the hospital, demanded the ED officially make it clear immediately whether Balaji has been arrested or not.
Meanwhile, V Ananda Kumar, the nodal officer at the Omandurar hospital, said that Senthil Balaji is being treated for blood pressure and variations in the ECG and added that there were no external injuries to the Electricity Minister. "After Covid-19, several patients come with the complaint and there is a standard operating procedure for such cases. While we are investigating if he has been tortured, there are no external injuries," he added.
The arrest comes after Supreme Court, had last month, allowed police and ED to probe into an alleged cash-for-jobs scam against Balaji, who also holds the Prohibition and Excise portfolio.
Senthil Balaji was the transport minister in the AIADMK government, led by the late J Jayalalithaa, between 2011 and 2015. There were complaints against him, in which it was alleged he had received huge amounts as bribes from various persons for appointing them as drivers and conductors in the transport corporation.
The ED conducted the searches under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Last month, the Income Tax department too had searched Balaji's close aides in the state.
The searches are also happening in the wake of Union Home Minister Amit Shah's visit on Sunday. The visit was marred by controversy when street lights went off outside Chennai airport. Balaji has termed it accidental.
(With additional inputs from PTI)