CHENNAI: V Senthil Balaji, who has been under remand since June last year, in connection with a money laundering case, has stepped down as minister.
Highly placed sources said that Chief Minister MK Stalin forwarded Balaji's resignation to the Raj Bhavan. Balaji had been continuing as a minister without portfolio for many months. DMK sources said Balaji has sent his resignation to the CM a few days ago.
Balaji was one of the influential ministers in the cabinet headed by CM MK Stalin and held portfolios such as electricity and prohibition. He was divested of the portfolios following his arrest on June 14, and he has continued as a minister without a portfolio since then.
There have been criticisms from opposition parties including AIADMK and BJP for his continuance as a minister despite being arrested in a criminal case.
Recently, while hearing a bail petition from the minister, Justice N Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court questioned the rationale behind Balaji continuing as a minister without portfolio despite being under remand for 230 days in a case booked by the Enforcement Directorate.
The judge also asked how could a person be allowed to continue as a minister even after imprisonment for a long time. He also pointed out that even a last-grade employee of the State is deemed to have been suspended from service if he/she remains jailed for more than 48 hours in a criminal case.
On June 29 last year, Governor RN Ravi dismissed Balaji from the Council of Ministers, without any recommendation from the chief minister. The governor cited ongoing criminal proceedings and other cases against Balaji as the reasons for the dismissal.
The Raj Bhavan said Balaji was facing serious criminal proceedings in some cases of corruption including taking cash for jobs and money laundering. It also charged that Balaji, abusing his position as a minister, has been influencing the investigation and obstructing the due process of law and justice.
The Raj Bhavan also said there are reasonable apprehensions that the continuation of Balaji in the council of ministers would adversely impact the due process of law including a fair investigation that may eventually lead to a breakdown of the Constitutional machinery in the State.
“Under these circumstances, the governor has dismissed Balaji from the council of ministers with immediate effect,” the Raj Bhavan had said.
On May 31 last year, the governor wrote a letter to the chief minister advising him to drop Balaji from the cabinet citing the SC's directive to continue the investigation into the charges against him. However, the chief minister refused to accept this and recommended that the portfolios of Balaji should be reallocated to Thangam Thennarasu and S Muthusamy and that Balaji would continue as a minister without a portfolio until he recovers from his illness.
On June 16 last year, the governor approved reallocation of portfolios held by Balaji but did not agree to Balaji continuing as a minister since he was facing interrogation by the Enforcement Directorate. However, within a few hours, the state government passed a G.O. reallocating the portfolios of Balaji and stating that Balaji would continue as a minister without a portfolio.