There seems to be no end in sight to the confrontation between Union Health Minister A Ramadoss and AIIMS Director P Venugopal over the latter’s continuation in the prestigious post.
In the latest round of litigation, AIIMS President Ramadoss has moved the Supreme Court challenging the March 29 order of the Delhi High Court allowing Venugopal to continue as the institute’s Director.
Ramadoss has requested the apex court to stay the High Court’s order mandating prior approval of the Central Government for action against the Director and requiring two-week notice to be given to him.
The AIIMS President said that the Director being an appointee of the Institute Body, proceedings against him could be taken under Regulation 31 of AIIMS Regulations and only in major penalties the prior approval of the Central Government was required. Introducing the requirement of prior approval would be in the realm of legislating, he contended.
The matter is likely to come up for hearing next week.
The High Court had allowed Venugopal to continue as AIIMS Director on the ground that the Health Minister did not follow the due process of law while sacking him in July last year. However, it had asked Venugopal to quit from the post of Professor of Cardio-thoracic and Vascular Surgery holding that he cannot occupy two posts.
The High Court had also held that the five-year tenure of the Director couldn’t be curtailed without a justifiable reason and in violation of the procedure. Venugopal’s term ends in August next year. The High Court had also been warned the Centre against interfering with the autonomy of the institute by meddling in its administrative matters.
However, the Division Bench of the High Court gave a free hand to the Institute Body headed by Ramadoss to proceed afresh against the Director “in accordance with law and by giving him a two-week notice.” It also directed the Government and the Institute Body to formulate a policy covering the conditions of service of AIIMS employees including the Director and apply it uniformly.
In its appeal filed in the apex court, Ramadoss contended that the High Court committed a grave error of law by holding that the Director, who is also an AIIMS employee, would be without an upper age limit. Pointing out that the upper age limit for employees of teaching faculty and that of non-teaching staff was 62 and 60 respectively, he submitted the Director too should be governed by the AIIMS regulations as he was an employee of the institute.
He asserted that where Director was either a party to litigation or his interest was in conflict with that of the Government/Institute Body/ Governing Body, the AIIMS President should be empowered to deal with matters in his own right subject to ratification by the General Body or Institute Body. The HC had said that in such a situation the Institute Body or in emergency Governing Body should pass a resolution authorising a person duly familiar with the institute’s affairs to discharge Director’s functions.
Venugopal was removed from the post by the Institute Body meeting on July 5, 2006 called by Ramadoss and AIIMS for violating the “code of conduct by publicly criticising” the government. They also contended he was a miserable failure as a director and his continuance was highly detrimental to the future of the premier institute. But a single bench stayed his termination on October 18, 2006 saying the charges could not be proved and the Director was not given a reasonable notice or a proper hearing.
The March 29, 2007 verdict of the Division Bench was on the Centre’s petition challenging a Single Judge’s order.