Politics and law may be inseparable, but the first may sometimes overshadow the second, especially when it comes to prosecution of political leaders. An ongoing example is the spike in the activity of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in Tamil Nadu. Close on the heels of the arrest of V. Senthilbalaji, now a Minister without portfolio in the DMK regime, and the legal wrangling over the legality of his arrest and remand, another high-profile Minister, K. Ponmudy, is under the ED’s investigation. While the agency may have good reason to investigate and prosecute them, it does appear that they have been chosen for such action from among many political functionaries in the State who have pending probes against them. Both Mr. Senthilbalaji, who has now been shifted from a private hospital to a prison in Chennai, and Mr. Ponmudy, the Minister for Higher Education, face serious charges. Mr. Senthilbalaji was embroiled in a cash-for-jobs scam during his stint as Transport Minister in an earlier AIADMK regime, and had tried to wriggle out of it after money allegedly collected from job aspirant candidates by intermediaries was “returned” to them. However, court orders have kept the investigation alive. In the case of Mr. Ponmudy, he is accused of allowing red sand quarrying in excess of permissible limits as a Minister for Mines and Mineral Resources between 2007 and 2011; and granting quarrying licences to his son, friends and relatives.
The ED entered the picture to probe possible money laundering in handling the proceeds of the crimes. The agency has successfully warded off a stiff challenge to the legality of Mr. Senthilbalaji’s arrest and remand, but it must do more to put all facts in the public domain to show that its actions are justified. However, except for some court-ordered CBI probes and income-tax proceedings, central agencies appear to be doing little by way of pursuing allegations against members of the erstwhile AIADMK regime. The issue of granting sanction to the CBI to prosecute former AIADMK Ministers is “under legal consideration”, according to the Tamil Nadu Governor, even while the Union Home Ministry has accorded sanction in respect of two former IPS officers in the same case. It will be difficult to credit central agencies with taking timely action against corruption, if only parties identified with the Opposition are brought under their investigative ambit. Venality among political leaders is a fact in respect of some and a perception suffered by all those in public life. Therefore, agencies statutorily empowered to investigate and prosecute them must demonstrate their fairness and impartiality, if their searches, raids and arrests are to command credibility among the public.