Doctor is in

Published : Jun 06, 2008 00:00 IST

Dr. Venugopal assuming office as Director of AIIMS immediately after his reinstatement by the Supreme Court on May 8.-V. SUDERSHAN

Dr. Venugopal assuming office as Director of AIIMS immediately after his reinstatement by the Supreme Court on May 8.-V. SUDERSHAN

A Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Tarun Chatterjee and Harjit Singh Bedi has struck down the proviso to Sub-Section (1A) of Section 11 of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) (Amendment) Act, 2007, as unconstitutional.

Sub-Section (1A) read as follows: The Director shall hold office for a term of five years from the date on which he enters upon his office or until he attains the age of sixty-five years, whichever is earlier. This Sub-Section carried a proviso which read as follows:

Provided that any person holding office as a Director immediately before the commencement of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (Amendment) Act, 2007, shall insofar as his appointment is inconsistent with the provisions of this sub-section, cease to hold office on such commencement as such Director 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.

By virtue of this proviso, Dr P. Venugopal, then serving as Director of AIIMS, had to quit office before he could complete his term in July 2008. He subsequently challenged the constitutional validity of this Amendment Act in the Supreme Court.

In their judgment, Justices Chatterjee and Bedi agreed with Dr. Venugopals contention that the proviso was intended to affect him alone and none else. Therefore, it introduced a naked discrimination to deprive him of the protection under Article 14 of the Constitution, dealing with the right to equality, the Bench held.

In his petition, Dr. Venugopal alleged that he was deprived of the two protective conditions in respect of curtailment of tenure. He argued that the benefit of notice and justifiable reasons would be available to all future Directors but the proviso made them non-available to him. The Bench said in its judgment: .Such calculated steps to force the writ petitioner out of his office offend the constitutional scheme envisaging fair, reasonable and equal treatment on the part of the state in its dealing with the individual in general and with people in public employment in particular.

A Division Bench of the Delhi High Court, by its judgment on March 29, 2007, had considered Dr. Venugopals right to hold the office of the Director for five years from the age of 61 years to 66 years. The High Court held that Dr. Venugopal was entitled to continue as a Director up to July 2, 2008, and that premature termination could only be made for justifiable reasons and in compliance with the principles of natural justice. The High Court prohibited the Centre from implementing any adverse decision against Dr. Venugopal without giving him a period of two weeks for approaching the High Court. The Supreme Court agreed with Dr. Venugopal that the 2007 amendments were made precisely to frustrate the judgment of the High Court and his search for justice.

The Bench concurred with Venugopals counsel, Arun Jaitley, that the Amendment Act singled him out for premature termination without any question of his being justifiably treated as a member of a separate and distinct class on any rational basis.

Subsequent to the judgment, Dr. Venugopal rejoined service as the Director of AIIMS. Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Anbumani Ramadoss, who introduced the amendment Bill in Parliament, did not find the judgment to be an indictment of him personally. It was Parliament that passed the Bill, he told mediapersons.

Had the Bill been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee before it was enacted, as pointed out by the Left parties, the discriminatory provision could have been dropped and the government could have avoided the embarrassment of the Supreme Court setting aside an Act passed by Parliament.

V. Venkatesan
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