India Intelligence Report

   Dictatorship at AIIMS


In the most brazen transgression of Constitutional norms, Health Minister Anbumani Ramdoss humiliated All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Director and preeminent cardiologist Dr. Venugopal with a dismissal on fictitious charges. The 1200 resident doctors went on strike demanding the removal of Ramdoss and inconveniencing patients in need of care. The AIIMS Faculty Association of AIIMS (FAIMS) has also gone on strike to support Venugopal who is a national icon of the medical community and winner of international and national awards. The AIIMS has been totally shut down with Casualty and closed Out Patient Department (OPD) and only Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and Coronary Care Unit will work. Citing the support of 5 democratically elected organizations within the Institute, resident doctors say that Scientists, staff, and students of the Institute support Venugopal and gone on strike. Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) joined the strike while University College of Medical Sciences (UCMS) has called for a general body meeting to decide their course of action. GSVM Medical College at Kanpur, an autonomous institute, was the first to write in support for Venugopal but other such institutes seem to be joining in.

Convening a special meeting of AIIMS 17-member board chaired by Ramdoss and stuffed with cronies including the father-in-law of his sister, Venugopal was asked to wait outside in a dingy corridor while the board deliberated his performance. At the end of a meeting, Ramdoss announced the “termination of his term.” There were three dissenters who opposed the move.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Parliament (MP) V.K. Malhotra who is a board member voting against the motion criticized the manner in which an eminent heart surgeon was humiliated. Malhotra claims that everyone on the board, except one member from Tamil Nadu, opposed the process but Ramdoss went ahead with his dictatorial ways. Malhotra said that Ramdoss refused to listen to other members of the board who asked him to give Venugopal an opportunity to respond. Ramdoss concluded that Venugopal be removed for “violating the code of conduct.”

Malhotra alleged that “Ramdoss repeatedly said that he had the sanction of the highest authority and used the Prime Minister's name to bully and browbeat other members.” Malhotra also accused Ramdoss of deliberately and methodically destroying the autonomy of all institutes. However, he said that this move was draconian and that he would raise the issue in Parliament. He also said that Ramdoss plans to install the Health Secretary P K Hota and not another senior doctor as Director of AIIMS. However, Hota seems to have declined the position for unknown reasons.

At the meeting, Ramdoss included a non-agenda item claiming to have the authority to do so. That was the issue of “misgovernance (sic) of AIIMS.” Reportedly, three members including Malhotra, Delhi University Vice-Chancellor Deepak Pental, and Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow Director Dr SS Aggarwal criticized the Government’s interference in the operations of the Institute but recommended peace between the Minister and the Director. The three members who spoke are non-official and the rest were apparently Government representatives beholden to the Government and fearful of retribution if should disagree. However, the Ramdoss cut short discussion to pilot a resolution with only a voice vote because a recorded division could embarrass the Government. At a press conference, Ramdoss denied any personal vendetta but refused to divulge information leading to the humiliating dismissal of Venugopal since this was a “privileged information” that he “cannot divulge” at “this point in time.”

The communists have broken ranks with Ramdoss, condemned Venugopal’s removal, and demanded United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s intervention. Communists say that they disapprove the government’s unnecessary meddling in the functioning of the premier institute.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) also criticized Venugopal's removal saying “It is a very, very unfortunate decision. It is a reflection that we are losing the autonomy of premier institutes and medical health services in the country.” The IMA has requested the intervention of the President and Prime Minister.

The genesis of the feud between Ramdoss and Venugopal was during the anti-quota protests by doctors that paralyzed AIIMS for nearly 20 days. At that time, the Ramdoss asked Venugopal to sack the striking employees or to take stern action. When Venugopal did not comply, Ramdoss accused Venugopal of instigating the protestors and said the AIIMS administration has become “ineffective.” Venugopal claims that Ramdoss was interfering in the functioning of the institute.

Meanwhile, several doctors of the AIIMS have sued the Government to dissolve the governing body in the Delhi High Court. The court has asked all parties to respond. The AIIMS Act bars the Health Minister and his Secretary from being on the governing body. In 1996, a Rajya Sabha Committee recommended discontinuation of the practice of nominating the Health Minister and the Health Secretary to the Institute's governing body, saying that it would affect its autonomy and convert it into a government department.