The Supreme Court on Thursday ended a two-year-long legal battle between Dr P Venugopal and Union Health Minister A Ramadoss that had paralysed the working of the premier institute on several occasions.
The acrimony between the two was such that the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court had advised them to leave aside their personal differences and work together in the interest of the public and the institute. The confrontation between the two became public when Venugopal was removed from the director’s post on July 5, 2006. Ramadoss said the surgeon was found guilty of violating the code of conduct and claimed he did not require the Centre’s prior approval for the same.
He also refused to serve a show cause notice to Venugopal. Another argument forwarded by the minister was that since the upper age limit for the faculty and the non-teaching staff was 62 and 60, respectively, the director as an employee of the institute was bound by the regulations that govern AIIMS.
This led to the beginning of a bitterly fought litigation. Venugopal challenged his removal before the Delhi High Court. Appearing for him, senior counsel and BJP leader Arun Jaitley criticised the UPA government for publicly humiliating a well-known surgeon. Citing Section 11 of the AIIMS Act, Jaitley had further argued that Venugopal’s tenure was a fixed term of five years and it was not possible to curtail it.
After a single bench of the Delhi High Court passed a favorable order allowing Venugopal to continue as the director, the government appealed against the order. On March 29, 2007, a larger bench of two judges upheld the single judge’s order on the ground that Venugopal should relinquish the post of head of the cardiology department.
Even as the government appealed against the Delhi High Court order, it amended section 11 of the AIIMS Act to oust Venugopal. Section 11 deals with the appointment of the AIIMS director.
Two provisos were newly added to the Act. While the first one introduced the upper age limit for the institute’s director, the second proviso stated the law shall be applicable to all.
Venugopal once again moved the Supreme Court challenging the amended Act on four grounds. He claimed that the Act was targeted against him and since it was a legislation aimed at one person, the Act amounted to hostile discrimination against Venugopal. He also added that the Delhi High Court had permitted him to continue for five years, till July 3, 2008.
The court’s full text of the verdict declaring the Act unconstitutional was not available on Thursday. But once it comes out, it would be interesting to see what kind of comments/observations the court has made on the acrimonious relationship between the two.