Tamil Nadu

Probe into Jaya’s death is in public interest: T.N.

Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was “undoubtedly one of the tallest leaders” of the State whose 75-day treatment, and death, at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai needs to be probed in “eminent public interest”, the Tamil Nadu Government said in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Appearing before a Bench of Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari, senior advocate Dushyant Dave, for the State, said, “All the government wants is an inquiry.”

The State narrated a series of events which showed the seriousness of her death. “Her estate was burgled within days. A guard there was murdered. Another person’s wife and daughter were killed. A third person manning the computer died... All this shows the seriousness of her death,” he said. The investigation into these cases was under way.

The State was replying to Apollo Hospitals’ petition alleging bias on the part of the A. Arumughaswamy Commission of inquiry.

Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, for the commission, said the commissions of inquiry were an antidote to distorting rumours and allegations. Truth must be established even if it brought the conduct of people into the “fierce light of publicity”. He submitted that there were cases in which rumours and allegations could not be quelled by leaving them in the hands of the police. A high-powered commission of inquiry had to be constituted to go through the facts of the case and afford the parties concerned a free and fair atmosphere to make their statements, he said.

“For one year, they [Apollo Hospitals] participated in the inquiry... they sat on the fence for a year and then they say the inquiry was biased. The doctrine of waiver applies here,” Mr. Dave submitted. The senior lawyer argued that it would be “premature” on the part of the Supreme Court to intervene now.

Mr. Dave said the commission would submit its report to the Government. “Until the Government decides there is a need for action, nothing will happen. It is only when action is taken, they [Apollo Hospitals] can object... However unpalatable the proceedings [before the commission] may be, it has to be left to the future. The court cannot intervene now... Allow the commission to complete its inquiry, which is eminently in public interest,” he submitted.

Later at the hearing, Mr. Kumar said the commission’s report, along with the Government’s action taken report, is placed before the Legislature. “‘Action taken’ is in the past tense... What if, on the basis of the Commission’s report, an FIR is registered,” the Bench asked.

Mr. Kumar referred in general to how in the past the Government had put reports submitted by commissions in the “cold storage” without taking any action. Justice Nazeer said commissions were constituted for “time-pass...just to defuse the situation”. “Why do you appoint commissions if you do not intend to make their reports public...is it to wriggle out of the situation,” Justice Nazeer asked.

“There are commissions… and then there are commissions,” Mr. Kumar responded. He referred to how the Justice Nanavati Commission’s report on the 1984 riots had led to prosecutions.

The court asked the commission to file an affidavit clarifying whether the nature of its inquiry was public or in camera. At the hearing, the court asked whether the commission could be reconstituted. To this, Mr. Dave referred to the precedents of the Supreme Court having held that the executive, once it had constituted a commission of inquiry, could not interfere in its functioning or usurp its powers. He said the commission was merely a “fact-finding body” and its report would be recommendatory. “No prejudice would be caused to anybody,” he noted.

But then again Mr. Dave asked why should the court enter into that domain without Apollo Hospitals asking for it. To buttress his point, Mr. Dave quoted a Gujarati adage, “Without asking, even a mother will not give food”.

The senior advocate said the State’s notification appointing the commission was valid. The commission was acting well within its jurisdiction by examining the scope of Jayalalithaa’s treatment and her records. He said its mandate to probe whether her treatment was adequate or not allowed the commission to call for the medical records. “The commission can look into whether the treatment given to her was the best... The death and the manner of death is important... If the nature of the treatment has to be examined, would it not cover adequacy or inadequacy of it,” Mr. Dave asked.

Senior advocate Aryama Sundaram, for the hospital, had earlier argued that the reputation of the premier hospital, where Ms. Jayalalithaa breathed her last in 2016, was “blighted overnight” by the commission, which took a tangent which was “unbelievable”. The senior lawyer had said the path followed by the commission was straight out of the fairy tale Alice in Wonderland.

Mr. Sundaram submitted that the commission had even asked for the records of 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 commission were stayed by the Supreme Court in April 2019 on the basis of a plea by Apollo Hospitals that the commission’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.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 11:44:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/probe-into-jayas-death-is-in-public-interest-tn/article37654582.ece

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