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At AIIMS, an age ailment

New Delhi, June 17: The director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, P. Venugopal, has blamed the confrontation with the health ministry on interference in appointments.

But one appointment seems to have escaped the scanner of Venugopal: that of himself when the BJP was in power.

According to documents available with The Telegraph, Venugopal was appointed director in 2003 at the age of 61 for five years while 62 is the retirement age.

Regulation 30 of the AIIMS Regulations Act, 1999, states that exceptions can be made case by case “only till the age of 64”. Venugopal will be three days short of 66 when his term ends in 2008.

In July 2003, when the director’s slot fell vacant, Sushma Swaraj, the then health minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, had 25 senior faculty members to choose from. She picked Venugopal and a formal order was issued on July 3, three days before he turned 61.

Sushma did not show such flexibility while making another appointment ' that of K.K Talwar as director of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh.

Talwar’s appointment letter ' No.V.17020/91/2003 ' mentions that his term would last for “five years from the date of his joining or until the age of superannuation at the age of 62 years or until further orders, whichever is earlier”.

Venugopal, whose VIP patients include Vajpayee, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, had to face no such criteria.

Sushma has described Venugopal as one of India’s top doctors and had demanded the intervention of the Prime Minister to end the current standoff. But she could not be contacted for comment on the appointment of Venugopal as she was out of the capital today.

Neither was Venugopal, who has threatened to resign in protest against the current health minister’s alleged interference, available for comment despite repeated calls and a visit to his house.

Dated July 3, 2003, Venugopal’s appointment letter ' No.V.16020/8/2003 ' says that he “will also continue as professor in the department of cardiovascular & thoracic surgery”. A PIL claiming that he holds two government positions simultaneously will soon be heard in court.

It is not that even within the AIIMS, the BJP-led government had a uniform policy.

When endocrinologist N. Kochupillai wanted an extension by two years, the health ministry refused. A letter dated October 31, 2002, to the then director, P. K. Dave, declared that Kochupillai’s post as professor “stands terminated with immediate effect”.

An almost identical letter terminated the post of senior ophthalmologist V.K. Vada, who, too, had applied for an extension.

Asked in Parliament why the tenures of the doctors could not be extended, then health minister Shatrughan Sinha said in December 2002: “It could not be agreed to as this would be against the general policy of the government.”

At AIIMS, the confrontation continued to send ripples. Two groups submitted separate memoranda to the government, one seeking health minister Anbumani Ramadoss’s resignation and the other calling for Venugopal’s stepdown.

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