Venugopal sacking illegal, says apex court (Lead)

May 8th, 2008 - 9:50 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pratibha Patil

New Delhi, May 8 (IANS) Terming his ouster illegal, the Supreme Court Thursday ordered the government to reinstate eminent cardiologist P. Venugopal as director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). A bench of Justices Tarun Chatterjee and H.S. Bedi declared as “malafide and unconstitutional” the union government’s law fixing the retirement age of the AIIMS director at 65.

The bench 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.

“The act is malafide and unconstitutional. It’s struck down,” said the bench in its brief order. The detailed verdict of the bench is likely to be released Monday.

As per the provisions of the original law passed in 1956, AIIMS directors are appointed for a fixed tenure of five years, irrespective of their age.

Appointed in July 2003 at the age of 63, Venugopal was to retire as AIIMS director in July 2008 at the age of 68.

But he was thrown out on Nov 30 last year after President Pratibha Patil gave her assent to the amendments in the law, which were seen as a move by Union Health Minister A. Ramadoss to get rid of him.

Declaring the law as “illegal and unconstitutional”, the bench upheld the two petitions filed by Venugopal and the AIIMS faculty members.

While hearing the matter Dec 3 last year, the bench had observed: “We are with Dr. Venugopal on the facts of the case.”

The court, however, had refused to reinstate Venugopal at that time saying: “We are finding it difficult to suspend the law.”

The government’s law officer, Gopal Subramanian, had to face severe grilling from the bench Dec 3. “Can a law be passed to target a single individual?” the bench had asked.

To this, Subramanian had given a vague reply, saying the government had enacted the law as per a Delhi High Court ruling of October 2006 which had asked the government to bring a law governing the tenure of the AIIMS director.

Fali S. Nariman, appearing for Venugopal, had contended that the high court ruling had been challenged by the government before the apex court. Nariman contended that by enacting the law, the government has encroached upon the domain of the judiciary, ignoring the principles of the separation of powers in a parliamentary democracy.

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