The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Doctor versus Dr Minister
- AIIMS caught in public spat

New Delhi, June 15: The reservation row has blown the lid off an ego clash burning slow at the country’s most prestigious hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

Alleging government interference, the director of AIIMS today threatened to resign, only to be told by the health minister he was welcome to do so ' all in the space of an hour.

The flashpoint that triggered AIIMS director Dr P. Venugopal’s public expression of disenchantment with the government was the removal of two of his close aides last night.

But the spark was lit long before ' probably because Venugopal was appointed by the Vajpayee government ' and the flame fed by the recent anti-reservation agitation, which, the government suspects, had the blessings of a section of the faculty.

Dr Neerja Bhatla was eased out as sub-dean and Anjali Vij as public relations officer yesterday, according to an order signed by the dean, Dr Rakesh Deka. Deka signed the order as the acting director since Venugopal was on leave.

The issue burst forth into the public domain with Venugopal telling a media conference today that “during the last two years, there has been a systematic undermining of the institute and the authority of director. In case I fail in my duties to deliver as director and to prevent the destruction of dignity and autonomy of AIIMS, I would not hesitate in leaving the chair”.

Soon after, health minister Anbumani Ramadoss ' himself a doctor ' said the director was “free to resign”. “He (Venugopal) doesn’t need to go around lobbying that ‘I am going to resign’.”

The faculty association has demanded the removal of Ramadoss as AIIMS president, but sources said doctors are divided on the issue.

Some resident doctors of AIIMS, too, joined in, demanding the resignation of Ramadoss as well as Deka, the dean, for signing the order. But sources said an officer on special duty to the minister had sought the removal of the officials.

Many anti-quota students count Venugopal among their “supporters”, pointing out that he had allowed them to use the AIIMS lawns during the agitation last month.

Such gestures apparently upset the government and the chasm widened when Venugopal accompanied a group of anti-quota students when they met the Prime Minister.

Relations between Ramadoss and Venugopal had turned frosty after the director objected to inspection tours by the minister without permission. Matters came to such a pass that the minister’s dietary habits and alleged grouses about food at the AIIMS guest house began circulating.

Last year, a Congress MP had introduced a calling attention motion seeking Venugopal’s removal but it was rejected after former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee intervened.

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