[Recruitment scam] Madras High Court quashes case against Electricity Minister Senthil Balaji after victims, accused settle matter

After the alleged victims submitted that the matter has been settled, the Court opined that there would be no useful purpose in keeping the case pending.
[Recruitment scam] Madras High Court quashes case against Electricity Minister Senthil Balaji after victims, accused settle matter
Senthil Balaji, Madras High Court

The Madras High Court recently quashed a 2018 cheating case against incumbent State Electricity Minister and DMK MLA Senthil Balaji filed in relation to allegations of a 2014 recruitment scam when he was the Transport Minister in the AIADMK-led regime (Shanmugam v. The Inspector of Police and anr).

The Court was told that the complainant and thirteen alleged victims of the recruitment scam had arrived at a settlement and have been repaid the money owed.

Justice M Nirmal Kumar proceeded to quash the case against the accused including Senthil Balaji, his brother Ashok Kumar and Balaji's personal assistant, Shanmugam, observing that no useful purpose will be served in keeping the case pending.

The July 30 order passed allowing a petition moved by Shanmugam earlier this year stated:

"The case is still at the stage of trial. By passage of time, the parties have decided to bury their hatchet and compromised the dispute amicably among themselves. This Court enquired both the parties and is satisfied that the parties have come to an amicable settlement between themselves. In view of the above, no useful purpose would be achieved by keeping the above case pending ... Under such circumstances, no useful purpose will be served in this case, even though the offences involved are not compoundable in nature."

The FIR lodged in August 2018 cited offences under Sections 406 (punishment for criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating) and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Whereas an offence under Section 506, IPC is compoundable by the person intimidated, the offences under Sections 406 and 420 of the IPC are compoundable by the alleged victim with the permission of the Court, as per Section 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Case background

The matter relates to a 2018 complaint filed by one K Arulmani who was stated to have been working as Technical Staff in the Metro Transport Corporation, Perambur.

Arulmani alleged that he had been approached by one, Rajkumar (the fourth accused in the case now quashed) in 2014, around the time when a notification for the recruitment of driver and conductor in the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation was issued.

Rajkumar allegedly told Arulmani that these jobs can be secured if some money is paid for the same. As per the complaint, Rajkumar had claimed to know Senthil Balaji (then Transport Minister) and his brother Ashok. Rajkumar was further stated to have claimed that the Transport Corporation jobs could be secured through such influence for candidates who were willing to pay money.

On this assurance, Arulmani said that he had collected about Rs 40 lakhs from various persons and paid the same to Shanmugam, who allegedly received it in Balaji's presence. However, the names of the persons who had paid this amount were not reflected when the recruitment list was published.

The complaint alleged further that when they failed to secure the jobs, Arulmani had approached Rajkumar seeking repayment of the money. Although two cheques for ₹15 lakh each were given, Arulmani claimed that the bank later informed that the accounts had insufficient balance. Thereafter, Arulmani was allegedly threatened against pressuring for repayment of the money, the complaint said.

Fearing for his life, Arulmani claimed that he did not file a complaint for years since Senthil Balaji was a State Minister and a Member of the Legislative Assembly.

After the was FIR lodged in August 2018, a chargesheet was filed in 2019. Fourteen people were arrayed as witnesses, who were allegedly the cheated by the accused. The trial in the case was pending before the Additional Special Court for trial of cases related to Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu, Chennai.

During the course of the plea to quash this case, the High Court was told that Shanmugam used to run a man power agency and collect consultancy charges. Based on his position, he also gave positive hopes to aspirants on securing jobs, it was submitted. In 2014, he argued that only consultation charges were taken from prospective candidates who were informed that they have bright chances of securing the job if they fulfill the eligibility criteria. The dispute, as per Shanmugam's counsel, arose because these candidates could not secure the jobs. Only consultancy charges were collected from them and nothing more, it was asserted. In 2019, all the issues were resolved and the candidates were repaid the money, it was stated.

Further, it was contended that the case against Balaji was blown out of proportion because of political animosity as he had fallen apart from the ruling AIADMK dispensation. Notably, Balaji became a member of the DMK party in 2018.

Factors weighed by the Court

Justice Kumar noted that the alleged victims have filed individual affidavits on July 29 and that Shanmugam had also filed a joint compromise memo.

All the victims stated that they have been given the money owed to them and that they are not aware about events thereafter. It was, therefore, submitted that they have compromised their issues with the accused and have no objection to quashing the case.

The Government Advocate, on his part, submitted that the State Police was not aware of the 2019 compromise between the accused and the victims.

The Court added that the allegations appeared to be general and vague in nature since the appointment orders and other documents in respect of the alleged transaction were not produced.

Therefore, Justice Kumar quashed the case, stating:

"In the light of the guidelines given by the Hon'ble Supreme Court reported in 2017 9 SCC 641 (Parbathbhai Aahir @ Parbathbhai Vs. State of Gujrath), and after exercising due caution as advised by the Hon'ble Suprme Court in The State of Madhya Pradesh v. Dhruv Gurjar and Another reported in (2019) 2 MLJ Crl 10, this Court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Section 482 Cr.P.C., quashes the proceedings in C.C.No.25 of 2021 on the file of the Additional Special Court for Trial of Cases related to Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu, Chennai."

[Read Order]

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