Venugopal reinstated; Ramadoss says he won’t resign (Intro Roundup)May 8th, 2008 - 10:02 pm ICT by admin
By Kavita Bajeli-Datt, Prashant Nanda and Ajit Rana
New Delhi, May 8 (IANS) Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss Thursday refused to resign after the Supreme Court snubbed him when it reinstated P. Venugopal as director of the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) after a bitter turf battle between the two. The landmark decision of the apex court, which termed “malafide and unconstitutional” the central government law fixing the retirement age of the AIIMS director at 65, triggered a call for Ramadoss’ ouster by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the AIIMS resident doctors, who support Venugopal.
However, an unflustered health minister told reporters: “There is no question of resignation because it was passed by the government and parliament. This is not a setback for us.”
“There is no question of misleading parliament. We will take a decision after reading the judgment.”
Though Venugopal did not interact with media after the verdict, he thanked the judiciary in a message through his junior doctors. He resumed his job at the institute, one of the largest referral hospitals in Asia, without waiting for a formal communication from the health ministry.
“Our director is happy and he has expressed his thanks to the Supreme Court,” Kaushal Mishra, a junior doctor, told IANS from Venugopal’s residence.
Soon after the apex court verdict, doctors and students of the premier institute supporting the eminent cardiologist celebrated the moment distributing sweets and flowers as they gathered at his residence.
Many said they would celebrate Diwali tonight and string the hospital with celebratory lights and firecrackers.
Justices Tarun Chatterjee and H.S. Bedi of the apex court said it was evident that the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, and the Post Graduate Institute for Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh (Amendment) Act, 2007, which limited the tenure of the directors of the two institutes to a maximum of five years or till they reach the retirement age of 65, was enacted with the sole purpose to target the cardiologist.
Reacting to the court order, All India Congress Committee (AICC) spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said the government would “study the verdict and take a decision”.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader and Rajya Sabha member Brinda Karat said: “The Supreme Court has given the verdict and it’s now for the government to react.”
Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj on behalf of her party demanded the resignation of Ramadoss.
“The court verdict establishes that the health minister’s move to remove P. Venugopal was malafide and dishonest. When the high court gave a verdict in favour of Venugopal and the Supreme Court gave a stay order, he misused parliament to amend the act,” she said.
“The Supreme Court order (in this case) is not against making 65 years the age of retirement. It is against the proviso that it should be made with retrospective effect,” Swaraj told reporters.
“This is the defeat of the health minister and of the Manmohan Singh government. We demand the health minister’s resignation or the prime minister should sack him,” she said.
Swaraj recalled that as union minister for health and family welfare in 2003, she had announced the establishment of six AIIMS-type institutes in various parts of the country.
“We had even started the process of building these institutes but the present government has done nothing. Instead, it has tried to dismantle AIIMS, an institution of national importance,” she said.
Swaraj clarified that the court ruling did not signify a conflict between the executive and the judiciary. “The judiciary has the right to interpret the acts passed by parliament,” she said.
The health minister and Venugopal, who was supposed to retire in July 2008, have been at loggerheads for the last few years.
The tussle escalated during the anti-quota protests in 2006 with Venugopal reportedly helping students in their stir against 27 percent reservation for other backward classes (OBC) students in institutes of higher learning.
After the AIIMS Act got presidential assent in November 2007, the health minister sacked Venugopal as AIIMS director.
Expressing jubilation at the apex court order, president of the AIIMS resident doctors Kumar Harsh said: “We are grateful to the judiciary and call upon the central government to sack the health minister.”
“Instead of focusing on issues like malnutrition, child death, the minister is getting involved in publicity stunts. We demand the resignation of Ramadoss,” Harsh added.
Kaushal Mishra, another doctor, told IANS: “He was just out of action and going to join his office. We don’t need a government order for him to resume charge of AIIMS.”
“We are going to decorate AIIMS in celebration of our victory. By evening, you will see AIIMS looking like a newly wed bride,” he said.