It was an act of ‘naked discrimination’

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has slammed the law framed by health minister Anbumani Ramadoss to curtail eminent cardiac surgeon P Venugopal’s stint as AIIMS director as a “one-man legislation” and termed it as a “naked act of discrimination”. Though Ramadoss has already refused to see the SC verdict re-instating Venugopal as a rebuke, the details of the order make it evident that the apex court has come down quite heavily on the minister. The amendment to the AIIMS Act, fixing the upper age limit for the director at 65 years and applying it retrospectively with the sole objective of cutting short Venugopal’s five-year tenure, was one-man centric, a Bench comprising Justices Tarun Chatterjee and H S Bedi said. The SC’s 58-page judgment, made available on Friday — a day after it quashed the amendment as unconstitutional — will only further embarrass the government which had gone along with the health minister’s moves to settle his long running fued with Venugopal by enacting the controversial law. Allowing the petititon filed by Venugopal through advocate Maninder Singh, the court said the law attempted to classify Venugopal and future directors of AIIMS on different footing, which was “artificial and impermissible” as far as it related to premature termination. “Such an impermissible over-classification through a one-man legislation clearly falls foul of Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution being an apparent case of ‘naked discrimination’ in our democratic civilised society governed by rule of law, and renders the impugned proviso as void, ab initio, and unconstitutional,” said Justice Chatterjee, writing the judgment for the Bench. Holding the AIIMS Amendment Act to be “ultra vires and unconstitutional” before striking it down, the court said: “Venugopal shall serve the nation for some more period, that is, up to July 2, 2008.” The restoration of the director’s post to Venugopal came with arrears of salary and emoluments. “We direct the authorities to restore Venugopal in his office as director of AIIMS till his period comes to an end on July 2, 2008. Venugopal 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,” the Bench directed.
10 May 2008, 0222 hrs IST , Dhananjay Mahapatra , TNN


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