The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Tuesday stayed the operation of the recommendations that Justice A. Arumughaswamy Commission made against former Health Minister C. Vijayabaskar.
The Commission, which inquired into the hospitalisation and circumstances leading to the death of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, recommended an inquiry against Dr. Vijayabaskar and a few others.
Hearing the petition filed by Dr. Vijayabaskar, Justice G.R. Swaminathan stayed the operation of the inquiry report insofar as the petitioner was concerned. The former Minister had prayed that the report be stayed and quashed insofar as he was concerned.
Mr. Vijayabaskar said the observations, findings and recommendations against him in the report (dated August 23, 2022) were without any legal basis and could not be construed as “factual finding”, which ought to be expunged in its entirety. He said, “Adding insult to the injury, these findings have the tendency to cause a dent in the reputation and the political image which I enjoy in the State of Tamil Nadu”.
The former Minister questioned the remarks and observations made in the report. He sought to declare a subsequent government order (dated October 17, 2022), issued by the Chief Secretary, as non-est, illegal, contrary to the principles of natural justice and the statutory scheme of the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952.
The petitioner said the Commission submitted the report after almost five years since it had started its work. After perusing the report, he was shocked to note that the contents were vitiated by serious statutory violations and a complete abrogation of the principles of natural justice.
A bare perusal of the report would show that it was fraught with procedural infirmities. It seemed to have been based on the predetermined conclusions and to have arrived at the impugned recommendations, observations and findings on the basis of no materials at all, which could implicate the petitioner, he said.
Dr. Vijayabaskar said the Commission had gone beyond its terms of reference and delivered scathing observations against him, when there was no evidence on record to implicate him. It ought to have inquired into the circumstances that led to the death of Jayalalithaa, as mandated by the terms of reference. The findings and the observations suggested that the Commission had proceeded at an entirely different tangent and accentuated conspiracy theories with no basis.
He said the Commission had not issued any notice/show cause notice to him. It had made the main findings without following the statutory procedure and natural justice, and they were bereft of material evidence. The report states, “He has spoken about the treatment given to the late CM in an evasive and illusive manner… It is surprising that being the Health Minister, he did not take the necessary and proper initiative to take the late CM abroad for treatment… From all these aspects, the Commission concludes that Respondent 1-V.K.Sasikala, Commission Witness (CW) 17-K.S. Sivakumar, CW 136-Dr. J. Radhakrishnan, the then Health Secretary, and CW 146-Dr. C. Vijayabaskar, the then Health Minister, have to be found fault with, and investigation is to be ordered.”
The former Minister said he was denied his right to defend himself effectively. He was shown as a commission witness 146 and nowhere had the Commission arrayed him as a respondent during the proceedings. The Commission ignored the report of the AIIMS medical board which was constituted on an order of the Supreme Court. He also apprehended adverse consequences from the report since the government order had said it was decided to initiate appropriate action on the recommendations of the report against certain individuals after obtaining the opinion of the legal experts.
He said the Commission had committed a further violation: a copy of the statement taken from him was not given to him. In any event, it was unfair, irrational, unreasonable and arbitrary that the petitioner was not given the opportunity to adduce evidence, he said. Therefore, Dr. Vijayabaskar said, it was clear that the manner in which the inquiry conducted by the Commission had fallen short of explaining where the fault lay with those it found culpable, and the Commission had traversed beyond its terms of reference. It had also failed to conduct a fact-finding inquiry into the circumstances and situation leading to the hospitalisation of the late Chief Minister, which was the purpose for which it was constituted.
The Commission had made post-facto judgments about the medical procedures that must have been followed in the treatment of the former Chief Minister during her stay at Apollo Hospitals. It had made outlandish allegations against the qualified medical professionals and the petitioner based on mere surmises and conjectures. The report made no attempt to render justice; rather, it made stray and strong observations against professionals and government officials without an iota of evidence. On account of these factors, the report ought to be set aside, he said.