Friday, May 09, 2008

The AIIMS (Amendment) Act 2007 - from farce to fiasco


What a sad reflection on the way Bharat, that is India, is being run!

At the center of this latest episode that highlights the capricious ways of functioning of the
present Govt. of India is Dr. A. Ramadoss, the Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare.

I shall teach him a lesson.
Dr. A. Ramadoss

Dr. Ramadoss is one of the
Tughlaqs
in the present Government. During his tenure as a Minister in the Union Cabinet, he has shown a remarkable ability to think and act in ways that displays a sheer lack of maturity. Many of his utterances and actions have invited ridicule or landed the Govt. repeatedly in the Courts. (See here, here and here) His Ministry has tied itself into knots trying to execute some of his ideas, having had to repeatedly modify or defer the implementation of half-baked rules framed at his behest.

On 8th May 2008, the Supreme Court of India struck down a provision in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences & the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (Amendment) Act, 2007. -AIIMS (Amendment) Act, 2007 for short. Even by the most charitable interpretation,
this Judgment is a serious blow to the Union Govt.’s slapdash approach to the serious business of governance.

The events leading to the present fiasco have been known since a long time by the Government comprising of the Cabinet as well as the Babus, the Parliamentarians and even the public-at-large, thanks to regular media coverage of the machinations of Dr. Ramadoss in this matter.

AIIMS
Dr. P. Venugopal

From the time he began interfering in the affairs of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the Minister had made it evident that the Director of AIIMS, Dr. P. Venugopal, an internationally renowned cardio-vascular surgeon, was a thorn in his flesh that had to be removed. Soon after he got interested in the affairs of AIIMS, he came to the conclusion that the Institute was not functioning in the way it should and Dr. Venugopal was identified by him as the person who was to be held responsible and sacked. During this time, the quota agitation in April 2006 also affected AIIMS with the resident doctors joining the fray to protest against the proposed reservations for OBC. Rightly or wrongly, Dr. Venugopal was perceived to be tacitly supporting the agitation in AIIMS, further strengthening the Minister’s determination.

Having been totally consumed by the desire to teach Dr. Venugopal a lesson, the Minister used every possible device to pressurize and hound him out, an effort which saw the Govt. getting involved in the Courts time and again. When nothing worked, he convinced the Union Cabinet to amend the AIIMS Act with the sole objective of removing the Director in the garb of formulating a policy in accordance with the
directions of the Delhi High Court in a Public Interest Litigation. The Union Cabinet, in its wisdom or lack of it, decided to go along with Dr. Ramadoss and presented the Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha in August 2007. Even a misleading picture was given to the Parliament in the Statement of Objects & Reasons for the Bill.

A fair idea of the stratagems adopted by the Minister was presented by Mrs. Maneka Gandhi (BJP/NDA) in the Lok Sabha during
the debate on the AIIMS (Amendment) Bill. The good Minister’s side as presented by himself and another member Dr. Karan Singh Yadav (Congress/UPA) is also found in the debate.

During the Lok Sabha debate, Mr. Braja Kishore Tripathy (BJD/NDA) repeatedly drew attention of the House to the fact that the Bill was unconstitutional and liable to be struck down. He said: “If you approve this thing, tomorrow, it would be declared unconstitutional by the court. So, should we be ignorant like this and approve this? That is my point and I am just trying to draw the attention of the entire House to know the provision of law. The same would be declared unconstitutional in the light of law laid down by the Supreme Court in a number of cases.” But, Mr. Das Munshi (Congress/UPA) mad
e it “abundantly clear that this UPA Government is not against any individual. We are streamlining the policy only.” The Bill was passed after a walk out by members opposing the Bill. In the short debate in Rajya Sabha, the CPI as well as CPIM, self-appointed conscience-keepers of the UPA also unequivocally supported the Bill.

The Bill became law on 30th Nov. 2007. On the same day, Dr. Venugopal was removed but he challenged in the Supreme Court, the provision of the amending Act under which he was removed. On 8th May 2008, the Supreme Court struck down as ultra vires and unconstitutional, the very provision in the Amendment Act under which Dr. Venugopal was sacked. The Supreme Court further directed that:

“..the writ petitioner shall serve the nation for some more period, i.e., upto 2nd of July 2008. We direct the AIIMS Authorities to restore the writ petitioner in his office as Director of AIIMS till his period comes to an end on 2nd of July 2008. The writ petitioner is also entitled to his pay and other emoluments as he was getting before premature termination of his office from the date of his order of termination.”

In the course of its Judgment, the Court observed: "…. the Parliament does not seem to have been apprised about the pendency of the proceedings before the Delhi High Court and this Court and declaration made and directions issued by the Delhi High Court at different stages." It is worth noting that the Delhi High Court Judgment dated 29th March 2007 had held that Dr. Venugopal was entitled to continue as Director up to 2nd of July 2008 and issued a Writ of Mandamus that premature termination could only be made for justifiable reasons and in compliance with the principles of natural justice. The conclusion of the Supreme Court was clear that the proviso to sub-section (1A) of Section 11 of the Act was only intended for Dr. Venugopal when it said: Such an impermissible over classification through a one man legislation clearly falls foul of Article 14 of the Constitution being an apparent case of “naked discrimination” in our democratic civilized society governed by Rule of Law and renders the impugned proviso as void, ab initio and unconstitutional.

Can there be a greater indictment of the Government’s actions?

This was an amendment initiated by one single individual to act against one other individual. No one in the Union Cabinet could have been ignorant of the goings on in this matter for well over an year, before the proposed amendment Bill was brought before it. The Union Cabinet knew very well that a particular part of the amendment bill was tailor-made solely to sack the Director of AIIMS at the whims of a single Minister, a relatively junior Minister at that.

The Union Cabinet could not have been unaware that the particular provision would run afoul of the Constitution, particularly as there were precedents in the Judgments of the Supreme Court in similar matters. It is inconceivable also that the Cabinet was so badly advised by the officials in the Ministries of Health and Law that they did not point out to the
judgment of the Delhi High Court dated 29th March 2007 and the Writ of Mandamus issued against the Govt. It is abundantly clear, therefore, that in approving this Bill for presentation to the Parliament, the Govt. knowingly threw all caution to the wind in completely ignoring the law and failed to maintain the high norms of probity expected of it. It presented a Bill to the Parliament concealing facts and misleading it. Similarly, even the Parliamentarians were aware all the time about the true intent of the amendment Bill. And yet, the Parliament passed the Bill.

The issue then is, that had it not been for the fight of principles carried on by the person affected by the amendment, the people would have remained mute spectators to the manner in which the Govt. of the country manipulated the legislative powers and the entire system to remove just one individual from office only a few months before his term was to end. It was as if that one person was the enemy of the entire Government. Sadly, even the Parliamentarians allowed themselves to acquiesce in this blatant subversion of the Rule of Law.

The lesson is that even in India of the 21st Century, Governments pretending to look after “supreme national interests” can and will continue to behave in an arbitrary manner and take subjective, suspect actions and abuse their power, whenever they think that ‘no one is looking’. The only solution against such tendencies that weaken Democracy is for the people at large to be alert.

For the Government, this incident may not be the last one to bring it discredit. Some of the actions of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare are already before the Courts and as long as Dr. Ramadoss is allowed to have his way as a spoiled child, it may well be that the Govt. will keep getting more egg on its face.

15 Comments:

At May 11, 2008, Anonymous Prerna Gandhi said...

It is the greed to stick to power at all costs that makes them support such actions.

These shameless creatures cannot be expected to do any better.

 
At May 11, 2008, Anonymous Dr. N. Iyer said...

I think Dr. Venugopal also was little bit lacking in administration side.

However, this is not good enough reason for the Government to pass a special law to remove him.

In any case Venugopal was to leave after 7 months and heavens would not have fallen if he was allowed to stay and leave gracefully as he deserved to be.

This is only vengeance of Dr. Ramadoss.

 
At May 11, 2008, Anonymous Akhil Chowdhary, Delhi said...

Good article.
You have taken pains and found out a lot of relevant information and provided links which makes it very helpful in understanding what exactly were the issues.

Now after reading the Supreme Court Judgement, I agree that the Govt. machinery has been misused for which the Cabinet is responsible.

 
At May 11, 2008, Anonymous Ramesh Hegde from Bangalore said...

This incident shows the weakness of the present Govt. It is not PM who is weak that he cannot say no to such wild proposals.

It is his party that asks him to go along with whatever the allies ask.

 
At May 12, 2008, Anonymous SHAMEEM said...

How much money has been spent in court cases?

The same must be recovered from all the ministers collectively.

 
At May 12, 2008, Anonymous Amit_abh said...

Politicians must keep out of academic institutions!!

Academicians please stop playing politics.

 
At May 13, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

GANDHI,IYER,CHOUDHURY,HEGDE THERE IS COMMMONALITY MY DEAR FRIENDS.IN INDIA SC,ST,OBC, CONSTITUTE 15,7,52%RESPECTIVELY.ALL FORWARD TOGETHER FORMS ONLY 15% REMAINING ARE CHRISTIANS SIKHS MUSLIMS.LIONS ARE SLEEPING IN THE DEN.DO NOT IRRITATE THEM .LET THEM LIVE IN THEIR SLUMS.THESE 15 %HAVE BEEN ENJOYING THE FREEDOM WE HAD FROM BRITISH.SUPREME COURT JUDGES HAVE THEIR AGE LIMIT OF 65 ONLY.WHY CAN'T AIIMS DIRECTOR.CASTEISM IS WORST THAN APPARTHEID THAT EXIST IN AIIMS MR.VENUGOPAL SHOULD HAVE TAKEN APPROPRIATE ACTION AGAINST DIVISIVE AND CASTE AGENTS IF NOT DOCTOR SHOULD NOT HAVE TAKEN SALARY FROM PUBLIC FUND.HE IS NOT THE ONLY CARDIAC SURGEON IN THE COUNTRY.SO CALLED MERIT IS RELATIVE .ASIAN MERIT,WHITES'MERIT DIFFERS.ALL INVENTIONS, DISCOVERIES AND EXPLORATIONS ARE UNDER TAKEN BY WEST ALONE .WHERE IS INDIAN OR CHINESE ACHIEVEMENTS.ALL MERIT CLAIMS ARE FRIVULOUS.YOU GIVE US AN OPPORTUNITY WE WILL SHOW WHAT IS MERIT.BUT WE ARE DEPRIEVEED OFF. SORRY STATE INDIA.
PRAVEEN
vasudevan_praveen@yahoo.co.in

 
At May 13, 2008, Anonymous seema Yadav said...

I think anonymous above is having some problems in understanding the issues involved.

He seems to be in the dark about the latest situation on the reservation front.

In any case, that is not at all the issue in the above article.

Such comments which create ill-will should not be allowed.

 
At May 13, 2008, Anonymous Sapan Das said...

I strongly feel that the bueaucrats who advise these ministers are not doing their duty and are good for nothing.

They are not fit to be in their positions if they fail to point out to the ministers if they are on the wrong track.

 
At May 13, 2008, Anonymous Sultan Shaikh said...

Power hungry people in the Govt. will even now continue with such abuses for sure. So it is futile for the ppl to expect anything better.

The politicians wll simply try to divert ppl's attn. by finding new ways to divide the ppl between religions, castes etc. or highlighting some petty issues.

THEY NEVER LEARN.

 
At May 14, 2008, Anonymous Jaspal Singh said...

I wonder how long ministers like ramadoss etc. will continue.

Instead of cheap publicity gimmicks, they should work like Lalu Yadav silently and deliver
the goods.

 
At May 15, 2008, Anonymous kannan said...

Good article.
Please keep writing.

 
At May 18, 2008, Blogger Kumar said...

I have just one question. Who are the morons who elect an idiot/Tughlaq like Ramadoss. Aren't we the people of India in a way responsible for this? Why don't we throw out such power hungry and opportunitic and corrupt politicians from the seats of power they occupy?

 
At May 21, 2008, Anonymous Lokadhikar said...

Kumar,

It is sad but the simple truth is that most people just do not care to assert their rights under the democracy.

The only answer is to create awareness. Fortunately, the internet provides a tremendous opportunity to spread awareness of such issues so that people start thinking and appreciate how they are being affected by actions of these politicians.

Sooner or later, hopefully, people will be goaded into action and throw them out even if they made a mistake in electing them in the first place.

 
At November 10, 2008, Anonymous Lucinda said...

Good words.

 

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