The Supreme Court on Monday gave the Centre and AIIMS president A. Ramadoss two weeks to respond to ousted director P. Venugopal’s petition challenging the AIIMS Amendment Act, but refused to stay the new law that led to his removal.
The government found itself on the back foot after the court said, “On facts of the case we are with Mr Nariman (Venugopal’s counsel).”
However, it said there were difficulties in staying the act.
The bench headed by Justice Tarun Chatterjee, which posed several probing questions to the government, ordered that T.D. Dogra should continue in Venugopal’s place till the final hearing in mid-January. The order was passed after Nariman and senior counsel Arun Jaitley expressed apprehensions that the government might remove Dogra as well. They pointed out that Dogra had recently been suspended, an order that was subsequently stayed by the Delhi High Court.
The court described Venugopal’s removal as “very unfortunate”, and sought to know why the law fixing 65 as the age of superannuation had to be pushed through in such hurry. Venugopal was to retire in June 2008.
“Why is such a reputed person humiliated in this way? Was there any necessity of bringing the amendment at this stage?” the bench asked after senior counsel Fali S. Nariman submitted that the new law was “hostile and discriminatory”.
Nariman argued that the law on superannuation cannot be enforced retrospectively, and that its purpose was only to oust Venugopal, whose continuation as AIIMS director had been upheld by Delhi High Court in March 2007.
The government could not have gone ahead with the new law as appeals challenging that order were pending before the SC and fixed for hearing on December 10, Nariman said. “It is a naked use of usurpation of judicial power,” he added.
Appearing for the AIIMS Faculty Association, senior advocate Arun Jaitley gave a brief history of the tussle between Venugopal and Health Minister Ramadoss, and argued that once the rights of an individual (Venugopal) has been adjudicated by the court, it cannot be altered by parliament. Terming it as usurpation of judicial power, Jaitley said parliament can not act as an appellate authority against judicial verdicts. It was against the concept of separation of power envisaged in our constitution, he said. After hearing Nariman and Jaitley, the court said the matter needed “deeper consideration”.
On behalf of the the government, Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium submitted that till now, AIIMS directors have been appointed on a contractual basis, and the new law has been enacted to address the concerns of the Delhi High Court, which wanted some sort of rules/regulations or a statute to remove ambiguity on the issue. Subramanium said no mala fide can be attributed to parliament in enacting the new law.