| Venugopal arrives for the meeting. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, July 5: The standoff at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) exploded into a bare-knuckled brawl with the governing body sacking the director and resident doctors retaliating by going on a flash strike.
Casualty and emergency services at the country’s most prestigious hospital were paralysed by the strike that kicked in as soon as it was disclosed that the tiff with health minister Anbumani Ramadoss had cost director P. Venugopal his job.
Taken aback by the dismissal, faculty members also went on a 24-hour strike. A decision whether to prolong the action will be taken tomorrow. Resident doctors said they would not join work till Venugopal is reinstated and Ramadoss quits.
A 35-year-old man who was turned out of an emergency ward by the striking doctors died three hours later.
The confrontation between the minister and the director, who was appointed by the NDA government, has been simmering ever since the UPA took over but it escalated during the anti-quota protests when Venugopal was accused of supporting the agitation against reservations.
A public outburst by Venugopal, an eminent cardiologist, while on protest leave and an equally acerbic repartee by the minister, who is also a doctor, shovelled fuel into the fire last month.
The flashpoint was reached today at the meeting of the 17-member governing body, chaired by the minister.
The proposal for terminating Venugopal’s services was, according to sources, not included in the five items on the agenda. An important item on the agenda was user charges in AIIMS, which were rolled back.
The ouster proposal was introduced by the minister just as the discussion on the routine agenda was getting over. Ramadoss asked the director to leave the room as the matter “directly concerned his conduct”. Venugopal then waited outside.
The minister’s proposal to remove Venugopal was opposed by some members, particularly V. K. Malhotra of the BJP. The sack proposal ironically mentioned that Venugopal was to be ousted a day before his birthday, July 6.
The main grounds for the ouster are his “criticism of the government” that amounts to violation of conduct rules. He was charged with “vitiating” the atmosphere in AIIMS and “openly criticising” the government.
“Dr Venugopal gathered faculty, students and outsiders in the AIIMS auditorium and spoke openly, criticising the government for allegedly interfering in the affairs of AIIMS. It led to considerable tension in the institute. It has brought indiscipline and bad name to the institute'. It would be in public interest to terminate the term of Dr Venugopal with immediate effect,” said the proposal.
Fourteen of the 17 members voted in favour. The three who voted against were Malhotra, Delhi University vice-chancellor Dipal Paintal and S.S. Aggarwal from Lucknow.
Venugopal refused comment but those who called on him at his home said he was “too stunned” to speak. The minister, on the other hand, denied that the director was sacked out of any personal enmity. “We all have high regards for Dr Venugopal,” Ramadoss said.