The Supreme Court on April 26 stayed the entire proceedings of Justice (retd.) A. Arumughaswamy Commission of Inquiry into the death of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa on a plea by Apollo Hospitals that the panel is functioning in a way “replete with bias”.
Instead of conducting an impartial inquiry, the Commission has converted itself into an adversary, Apollo Hospitals told a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
The Bench acknowledged submissions made by senior advocate Aryama Sundaram and advocate Rohini Musa, for the hospital, that the proceedings before the inquiry panel is causing “grave prejudice” to the hospital’s reputation.
Mr. Sundaram informed the court that the Justice Arumughaswamy Commission has taken to filing applications “on its own behalf before itself”. These applications filed by the Commission to itself allege that the hospital had shown negligence in the treatment of Jayalalithaa, who died on December 5, 2016.
Apollo Hospitals submitted that the Commission, instead of conducting an impartial probe, has filed a pleading wherein it has alleged “criminal intent” on the part of the hospital and its doctors.
Mr. Sundaram submitted that the Commission had even asked for the medical reports of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran, who died in 1987.
Senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan, for Tamil Nadu, urged the court to not stay the Commission proceedings at this point. However, the Bench refused to oblige the State and proceeded to freeze the inquiry. The court further asked the State to file its reply in four weeks.
Apollo Hospitals submitted that the elaborate medical reports about the circumstances leading to the death of Jayalalithaa was released in March 2017 to end speculations.
Subsequently, the State had appointed the 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.
However, Mr. Sundaram submitted, the Commission began a full-fledged probe into whether adequate and proper treatment was given to the former Chief Minister, and, whether the treatment given to her was “correct”. The hospital alleged that the Commission has cross examined doctors, “alleging their collusion with the government and negligence”.
The Commission has adopted an “adversarial” attitude to the hospital despite the latter furnishing it with 30 volumes of medical records, two CDs of CT scans, DVD of ECHO cardiogram, microbiology, biochemistry and several other tests. “Further, 55 doctors along with nurses and paramedic staff attached to the hospital have personally deposed before the Commission of Inquiry and furnished all details of the treatment given to the Late chief minister,” the petition informed the apex court.
The hospital approached the Supreme Court after the Madras High Court dismissed its petition on April 4. The High Court had described the Commission proceedings as “strange” and further censured the panel. However, the court let the Commission continue merely on the ground that its findings would not be binding, and ultimately, it was up to the State to decide a future course of action.
But Mr. Sundaram drew the apex court’s attention to how the Commission’s style of functioning would damage the hospital’s stature as a state-of-the-art facility of global standards in Chennai. This, especially when the Commission is releasing materials on the proceedings, rulings, etc, to the media even before making them available to the hospital.