The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) faculty is again up in arms against Health Minister Ambumani Ramadoss, protesting a bill that will enable the removal of their director P Venugopal.
In a recent AIIMS faculty association meeting, over 200 senior doctors decided to petition Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to stop Ramadoss from passing the AIIMS amendment bill that will bring changes to the AIIMS Act 1956.
"The health minister has already introduced a bill in Parliament without even consulting the institute. His intention is clear - to oust our director P Venugopal," a senior office bearer of the AIIMS faculty association told IANS.
"Instead of targeting a single doctor, he should have included (recommendations of) the MS Velliathan Committee report submitted earlier this year, which recommends IIT and IIM type autonomy to the institute."
The premier AIIMS has been described by Newsweek magazine as a medical "oasis of the poor" and treats at least 8,000 people every day. Patients from across the country avail treatment here for a nominal fee.
On Aug 17, the health minister, who is also the AIIMS president, had introduced the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Post Graduate Institute of Medical Research Amendment Bill. The bill has the provision to fix the term of AIIMS director and if passed in Parliament, can even evict Venugopal from his current post.
"The director shall hold office for a period of five years from the date on which he enters upon his office or until he attains the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier," the bill says.
Doctors ask why the health ministry can't give up the post of AIIMS president - currently held by Ramadoss - and appoint a medical scientist instead.
"Provided that any person holding office as a director immediately before the commencement All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research Amendment Act, 2007, shall in so far as his appointment is inconsistent with the provision of the sub section, cease to hold office (sic) ... and shall be entitled to claim compensation not exceeding three months pay and allowances for the premature termination of his office or of any contract of service," the bill underlines.
Once this bill becomes law, it will also empower the central government to terminate the services of the director even before his term expires for the sake of "public interest".
"...The central government shall, if it is of the opinion that it is in the public interest so to do, have the right to terminate the term of office of the director at any time before the expiry of his term by giving him a notice of not less than three months in writing or three months salary and allowance in lieu thereof," Ramadoss has underlined in the bill.
Ramadoss and Venugopal have been at loggerheads for the last few years and the situation became worse after AIIMS doctors were at the forefront of an anti-reservation stir last year.
Ramadoss had even sacked Venugopal but the latter went to court, which put a stay on the termination of the director's services.
Doctors in the hospital said the MS Velliathan Committee appointed by the central government was in favour of giving maximum autonomy to the institute.
"Autonomy of the institute was of paramount importance for its growth both in patient care and research work. We want all politicians out of the governing body. The Velliathan Committee has recommended appointment of eight medical scientists in the governing body," another faculty association member said.
"Why can't Ramadoss include the recommendation of the report for the betterment of an institute of AIIMS' standing? Why can't we be free from politicians and political vendetta?" he asked.
"In a couple of days (by Wednesday), we will send the petition to the prime minister, following which we will draw up our action plan," he said hinting at a possible strike at AIIMS.
Remarked another senior doctor: "There is only one option - let's stop targeting one man (Venugopal) and think for the betterment of patients, doctors and medical research. I think Ramadoss has all the answers."