Apollo Hospitals urged the Supreme Court on Thursday to quash the inquiry proceedings before the Justice (retired) A. Arumughaswamy Commission into the death of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa .
Submitting before a Bench of Justices Abdul S. Nazeer and Krishna Murari, senior advocate Aryama Sundaram, assisted by advocate Rohini Musa, said the proceedings reeked of bias and violation of the principles of natural justice.
“When there is a reasonable apprehension of bias, there is no question of Your Lordships saying ‘we will tell him to behave in the future’... I am seeking quashing of the proceedings,” Mr. Sundaram submitted on behalf of the Chennai hospital.
The senior lawyer said the right to protect one’s reputation against bias allows one to challenge an inquiry even before the Commission submits its report. Lack of bias is part of the principles of natural justice.
“Fair hearing is by a person who has no interest in the lis (suit),” he submitted.
“We have seen the Commission file an application before itself, file a reply and hear the application... Is that not being a judge of his own cause?” Mr. Sundaram asked.
“What you are trying to say is that he has been identified with the cause?” Justice Nazeer asked.
“Yes... He has gone way beyond being a judge of his own cause...” Mr. Sundaram responded.
In an earlier hearing, the court had wondered whether the Commission had “virtually become a judge of his own cause” or an “umpire playing the game himself”.
Mr. Sundaram had said the reputation of the premier Chennai hospital, where Ms. Jayalalithaa breathed her last in 2016, was “blighted overnight” by the CoI who took a tangent which was “unbelievable”. The senior lawyer said the path followed by the Commission was straight out of the fairy tale Alicein Wonderland .
Mr. Sundaram submitted that the CoI had even gone about to ask for the medical records concerning the hospitalisation of another former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M.G. Ramachandran, 37 years ago and his shifting to the Brooklyn hospital in the United States.
The proceedings before the CoI were stayed by the Supreme Court in April 2019 on the basis of a plea by Apollo Hospitals that the inquiry panel’s functioning was “replete with bias”.
Apollo Hospitals submitted that the Commission, instead of conducting an impartial probe, had filed a pleading alleging “criminal intent” on the part of the hospital and its doctors.
In an earlier hearing, the CoI, represented by senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, had informed the court that it had only four more witnesses left to be examined and should be allowed to complete its work and place its fact-finding report before the State Legislative Assembly.
The State had appointed the inquiry commission headed by Justice Arumughaswamy, a retired Madras High Court judge, on September 25, 2017. The Commission’s reference was to examine the circumstances which led to the hospitalisation of Jayalalithaa on September 22, 2016 and the nature of treatment given in order to determine the cause of hospitalisation.