SETBACK FOR RAMADOSS AS SUPREME COURT STRIKES DOWN AIIMS AMENDMENT ACT, REINSTATES VENUGOPAL AS DIRECTOR

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The Supreme Court has put the brakes on attempts by the UPA government to tinker with the autonomy of premier institutions by striking down the AIIMS Amendment Act and reinstated eminent cardiac surgeon Dr P Venugopal as the institute’s director.

The government, under pressure from health minister Anbumani Ramadoss, had rewritten the law for ousting Dr Venugopal from the institute. Even the die-hard admirers of the ruling coalition said that the law was not in the public interest. Given this backdrop, the judgement of the Supreme Court is seen as a welcome intervention to check the functioning of a wilfully wayward executive.

Dr Venugopal had challenged the Bill in court saying it was introduced by the government specifically with the intention of removing him from the post. A bench of Justices Tarun Chatterjee and H S Bedi upheld the appeal filed by Dr Venugopal challenging the impugned law as being discriminatory. The counsels for Dr Venugopal had argued that the Act was an “extremely hostile and discriminatory law, singularly made to publicly humiliate an eminent doctor”.

Senior counsel and former law minister Arun Jaitley had contended on behalf of Dr Venugopal that the Act was illegal as the Delhi High Court had in March last year upheld his continuation in the post and the matter was pending in the apex court. But the Centre in the meantime brought the amendment in Parliament, he said. The law was enacted after a no-holds barred confrontation between Dr Venugopal and the health minister over the control of the prestigious institute.

Within hours the court striking down the order, Dr Venugopal went to the director’s office at AIIMS and assumed charge. He described the verdict as a “victory for AIIMS”.

The Union health minister, however, was unrepentant and said the decision to remove the director was a collective decision of the Union cabinet. “This was endorsed by Parliament. We will study the verdict of the court,” he said.

The court had on December 3—the first day of the hearing of the case —expressed displeasure over the route that the government took to ease the director out. “Actually we are with Fali Nariman (the counsel for Dr Venugopal). But since the law has come into force, we are finding it difficult to stay it. On the facts of this case, we are with Nariman. Very unfortunate things have taken place. We will find some way to deal with it.”

The development will only strengthen the impression that whimsicality has become the defining feature of law-making under the Manmohan Singh government.

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