Forced to withdraw the dismissal of AIIMS Director P. Venugopal after a judicial snub, the Centre seems to be making yet another attempt to oust him by throwing its weight behind a PIL filed in the Delhi High Court challenging Venugopal's appointment beyond the age of superannuation.
According to the petition, the age of retirement for the director was 62 and his appointment at that age for a five-year tenure was illegal.
The Centre for Public Interest Litigation has named the Centre and AIIMS as respondents for appointing Venugopal in the petition filed on May 17.
They were expected to file their replies on Wednesday.
But when the matter came up for hearing, the Centre, engaged in a bitter war with the director, made it clear that it was in no mood to defend him.
Additional Solicitor General P.P. Malhotra, representing the Centre, said it was "not filing a reply".
The presence of three under secretaries of the Health Ministry at the hearing also raised eyebrows. Ironically, it was the Centre which appointed Venugopal as director.
"Now it becomes obvious that this is a government-sponsored PIL," senior counsel Arun Jaitley, representing Venugopal, told a Division Bench comprising Justice Mukundakam Sharma and Justice J.M. Malik.
The Bench, however, put the Centre in a tricky situation by insisting on a reply within two weeks. The government will now have to defend the appointment of Venugopal as it cannot be expected to denounce its own decision. Jaitley said he would file an affidavit after going through the government's views on the issue.
While the director has turned the tables on Health Minister A. Ramadoss, seeking his disqualification for holding an office of profit as the president of AIIMS, the PIL also seeks Venugopal's removal for holding two posts.
"Venugopal has been permitted to hold the post of director and professor of cardio-thoracic and vascular surgery simultaneously in complete violation of law and statutory regulations," senior counsel Prashant Bhushan, representing the petitioners, told the court. Bhushan said that even as a professor Venugopal was past his age of retirement specified by AIIMS regulations.