New Delhi, May 8 (UNI) Former All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Director Prof P Venugopal won vindication today when the Supreme Court quashed the AIIMS (Amendment) Act as unconstitutional even though Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss asserted that the judgement was not a setback for him.
A bench comprising Justices Tarun Chatterjee and Harjit Singh Bedi declared the amendment unconstitutional on the grounds that the entire Act was brought in to target the petitioner Dr Venugopal.
The apex court also accepted the contention of the petitioner that the Act was a case of hostile discrimination towards him.
More than five months after he was unceremoniously removed as the Director of prestigious AIIMS, the noted cardiac surgeon reassumed the office this afternoon following the verdict.
Dr Venugopal has been associated with AIIMS for 42 years and is over 66 years of age. He had been appointed to the post on July 3, 2003, and his five-year-term would come to an end on July two this year.
The BJP welcomed the verdict on Prof Venugopal and termed the ruling ''judicial treatment for an unhealthy Health Minister''.
It demanded that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh either seek the resignation of the Health Minister or sack him from his government following the ruling.
According to the impugned amendment, the retirement age of the AIIMS director was fixed at 65 years and the maximum tenure for him was 5 years, whichever is earlier.
Dr Venugopal, an eminent cardiologist, was removed from his post as he had already crossed the age of 65 years though his retirement was due in July this year.
An elated Venugopal hailed the Supreme Court judgement and said, ''I have always served the institute and will continue to do so for the time given to me,'' In a statement he thanked all the right-minded people who were concerned with the well-being and advancement of AIIMS in serving the masses of the country.
''I thank all my countrymen, colleagues, AIIMS faculty and resident doctors for being with me in the hour of crisis.'' Earlier after hearing the verdict, Dr Venugopal said the Supreme Court had thwarted the ''game-plan carried out in Parliament.'' ''I am happy that the Supreme Court has upheld the truth,'' Dr Venugopal said in his reaction conveyed to the media through senior resident doctor Anil Sharma.
Senior BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu said, ''The Supreme Court's verdict is a slap on the faces of both the UPA government and the Health Minister. If Mr Ramadoss has any morality, he must resign.'' He said the Prime Minister should have understood the importance of the premier institute and not allowed the Minister to work in an ''autocratic manner''. Mr Ramadoss was ''targeting'' AIIMS director Prof P Venugopal and that should have been checked, Mr Naidu added.
BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told UNI here that his party had ''from day one been raising the issue of Mr Ramadoss' attitude towards former Prof Venugopal inside and outside Parliament.'' ''His stand from the very onset was unhealthy, undemocratic and politically motivated,'' Mr Naqvi added.
The BJP also charged the Health Minister with tarnishing the image of AIIMS. ''If the Minister continues to satisfy his ego, the institute will face a further embarrassment,'' he added.
Mr Ramadoss, meanwhile, asserted that the Supreme Court quashing the AIIMS (Amendment) Act as unconstitutional was not a setback for him and said there was no question of resigning on the issue.
''It is not a setback for me. It was not my decision but that of the UPA government which was even approved by Parliament,'' he told reporters.
Asked whether he would resign as demanded by the BJP following the Apex Court verdict, the Health Minister said there was no question of his resignation.
Professor T D Dogra was appointed as acting director of the AIIMS and the court also directed the government not to make permanent appointment to the post till the final disposal of the two petitions.
Another petition was filed by the AIIMS faculty association.
AIIMS Resident doctors demanded the Health Minister's resignation following the Apex Court verdict. ''Dr Ramadoss is responsible for the entire fiasco. He should resign immediately,'' Resident Doctors Association spokesperson Causal Kant Mishra said.
''It is a vital judgement. This is a day to celebrate since once again the truth wins over evil and everyone who is fighting for truth should continue doing this,'' AIIMS Resident Doctors Association president Dr Kumar Harsh said in a statement here.
UNI Team HS BD1840