Senthil Balaji Case

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What in Today’s Article?

  • Why in News?
  • S. Ramachandran versus V. Senthil Balaji
  • The Madras HC Verdict in the S. Ramachandran versus V. Senthil Balaji Case

Why in News?

While AAP leaders say that Mr. Kejriwal (sent to the custody of the ED till March 28) will remain Delhi’s Chief Minister, questions are being raised about whether he can continue to hold public office.

Judgments in the Supreme Court and High Courts have previously concluded that constitutional morality, good governance, and constitutional trust are the basic norms for holding a public office. 

S. Ramachandran versus V. Senthil Balaji

  • Background of the case:
    • Balaji, a former Tamil Nadu Electricity Minister, was arrested by the ED on money-laundering charges last year.
    • He continued to be a State Minister without portfolio while he was in judicial custody.
  • Case before the Madras HC:
    • The Madras HC was hearing the arguments made in court on whether a Minister must forfeit his right to occupy a public office that demands a high degree of morality if he is accused of a “financial scandal”.
    • The Madras HC heard arguments on -
      • Whether he has virtually forfeited his office as a Minister on account of being arrested and detained in prison, or in other words by being in judicial custody, and
      • Whether he had disabled himself from performing the duties and responsibilities of being a public servant.
    • The arguments referred to a 2014 Constitution Bench judgment of the SC in Manoj Narula versus Union of India. In this case, the SC had held that -
      • The basic norm for holding a public office was constitutional morality, that is, to avoid acting in a manner contradictory to the rule of law.
      • The second norm was good governance - the government has to rise above narrow private interests or parochial political outlook and aim at doing good for the larger public interest.
      • The third was constitutional trust, that is, to uphold the high degree of morality attached to a public office. 

The Madras HC Verdict in the S. Ramachandran versus V. Senthil Balaji Case

  • The Madras HC judgment highlighted the practical difficulties of being a Minister while in custody.
    • Ministers sitting in prison cannot ask the Secretary of State to get the files concerning any of the departments without breaching the oath of office.
    • Even if Mr. Balaji had been allowed to transact official business, the files would have to be “scanned thoroughly” by the prison authorities before it reaches his hands.
  • The HC asked whether a person should be paid salary from the State exchequer while occupying a public office without performing any duty attached to the office he held.
  • Though Mr. Balaji did not completely suffer a disqualification as a MLA under the Representation of People Act 1951, arguments are based more on the concern for public morality or constitutional morality.
  • The citizens “legitimately” expect that persons in power had high standards of moral conduct. It had described the role of a Chief Minister as “the repository of the people’s faith”.
  • Political compulsion cannot outweigh the public morality, requirements of good/clean governance and constitutional morality.

Q1) What do you mean by constitutional morality?

Constitutional morality refers to adhering to or remaining faithful to the fundamental principles of constitutional values. It comprises a commitment to an inclusive and democratic political process in which both individual and social interests are met.

Q2) What did the Supreme Court of India consider in the Manoj Narula v Union of India case?

A 5 Judge Bench of the SC was dealing with the question whether persons with criminal backgrounds and antecedents or those accused of heinous crimes were fit to be appointed as Ministers in Central and State Governments. 

Source: Can Kejriwal continue to be CM while in custody? Lessons from the Senthil Balaji case