The Madras High Court on Thursday criticised the Justice A. Arumughaswamy Commission of Inquiry (CoI) for adopting a “strange” procedure during its inquiry into the circumstances that led to the hospitalisation and consequent death of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on December 5, 2016, and said that Apollo Hospitals was “compelled” to approach the court only because of such bizarre acts.
Disposing of two writ petitions filed by the hospital, a Division Bench of Justices R. Subbiah and Krishnan Ramasamy said the hospital had subjected itself to the inquiry proceedings without any hesitation ever since the Commission of Inquiry was constituted in 2017.
It also cooperated with the inquiry all along until counsel for the commission filed a counter-statement against the hospital, not before any other forum but before the Commission of Inquiry itself.
'Counter statement against hospital not warranted'
The Bench said, “The averments made by, or on behalf of the commission in the counter statement are in fact disturbing. The contents of the counter statement are per se unwarranted and not intended in inquiry proceedings conducted by the second respondent (CoI) in exercise of powers conferred on it under the Commissions of Inquiry Act of 1952.”
The counter statement had been filed when the hospital insisted on constitution of a medical board if the CoI wanted to assess the correctness and adequacy of the treatment provided to Jayalalithaa between September 22 and December 5, 2016. The hospital said a team of highly qualified and experienced specialists in the country, apart from top doctors from the U.S. as well as the UK, had attended on her.
The Division Bench made it clear that the CoI should have avoided the procedure of filing a counter statement against the party before it. When the court was told that the counter statement was actually filed by the commission’s counsel on his own without any instructions, the judges said, in such a case, the counsel concerned must be pulled up as rightly contended by senior counsel C. Ariyama Sundaram and P.S. Raman representing the hospital.
Authoring the judgment, Justice Subbiah went on to state: “We also wish to observe that the CoI is a fact-finding body and during the course of such inquiry, the commission need not attribute collusion, conspiracy or fraud etc. Therefore, we find some force in the submission of the learned senior counsel for the petitioner that the second respondent (the commission) exceeded its scope and ambit in conducting inquiry proceedings by attributing negligence or collusion against the hospital.”
The Commission could only offer its opinion on the nature of treatment given to Jayalalithaa, the judges clarified. They hoped that the CoI would strictly confine itself to the terms of reference and that remarks made against the hospital in the counter statement might not form part of the final report. It would be up to the government to act upon the report, they added.