SC to allow setting up of medical board to aid Jaya death probe panel

‘Will permit Apollo Hospital to apply to the Commission for relevant documents and to examine relevant witnesses’

November 30, 2021 11:54 pm | Updated December 01, 2021 10:57 am IST - NEW DELHI

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it will pass orders to allow the setting up of a medical board of AIIMS doctors to help the Justice A. Arumughaswamy Commission of Inquiry gather the facts on the death of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa at Apollo Hospital in Chennai in 2016.

A Bench of Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari said it would permit Apollo Hospital to apply to the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) for “relevant” documents and to examine “relevant” witnesses.

The Bench said the directions of the High Court with regard to the CoI sticking to the ambit of its jurisdiction and following procedure would stand.

The court said the orders would include the assurance given by the CoI, Apollo Hospital and the Tamil Nadu Government that they would “co-operate for an early completion of the inquiry”.

The Tamil Nadu Government, represented by senior advocate Dushyant Dave, said it would provide the CoI a 700 sq. ft room with a dais to easily accommodate the proceedings and maintain its dignity.

Initially, during the hearing, the State objected to several requests made in an application filed by Apollo Hospital, represented by senior advocate Aryama Sundaram and advocate Rohini Musa.

Omnibus requests

Mr. Dave said the requests were of an “omnibus” nature and would see “the matter drag on”. "We have already spent crores,” he emphasised.

Mr. Sundaram countered that the “hospital is equally anxious about the possibility of the inquiry being dragged on”.

Mr. Dave said the parties could approach the High Court again with one grievance or the other and delay the inquiry.

Justice Nazeer suggested that Apollo Hospital could indicate the documents it wanted.

Mr. Dave said there should be some restriction on the number of documents and witnesses sought by the hospital. He said the court should also give the CoI a time limit.

Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the CoI, said there would be “no question” of the medical board directly giving Apollo Hospital a copy of its report.

“The report will be given to the CoI. Apollo can ask the government for the report,” Mr. Kumar said.

He submitted that the pandemic was still on, and there should be no insistence on having doctors from AIIMS, Delhi, on the medical board which would be based in Chennai.

The court then wrapped up the hearing, saying it would pass orders.

Apollo Hospital had moved the apex court, accusing the CoI of bias, violating the principles of natural justice and conducting the fact-finding exercise outside its jurisdiction. The CoI had denied the allegation of bias, saying it was “rhetorically made without providing any perspective of the matter”.

Reputation blighted

Mr. Sundaram had contended that the reputation of the premier hospital in Chennai had been “blighted overnight” by the CoI, which took a tangent which was “unbelievable”.

The senior lawyer had said the path followed by the CoI was straight out of the fairy tale ‘Alice in Wonderland’.

The hospital had urged the Supreme Court to direct the CoI to share records and permit it to participate in the examination of witnesses in the inquiry process.

The State had appointed the inquiry commission, headed by Justice Arumughaswamy, a retired Madras High Court judge, on September 25, 2017. The CoI’s reference was to examine the circumstances leading to the hospitalisation of Jayalalithaa on September 22, 2016 and the nature of the treatment provided to her in order to determine the cause of her hospitalisation.

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