Stick to ambit of probe, don’t assign guilt: Madras HC slams Jaya death probe panel

Apollo Hospital’s request for a panel of medical experts to assist the Arumugasamy Commission was denied by the court since 90% of the inquiry has been completed.
Stick to ambit of probe, don’t assign guilt: Madras HC slams Jaya death probe panel
Stick to ambit of probe, don’t assign guilt: Madras HC slams Jaya death probe panel
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The Madras High Court implored the one-man Arumugasamy Commission probing the death of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa to ‘only offer its opinion’ to the government and refrain from adjudicating on questions of guilt or innocence. The court reminded the commission that it was a fact-finding body and that the commission “need not attribute ‘collusion’, ‘conspiracy’ or ‘fraud’.” A bench of Justices R Subbiah and Krishnan Ramasamy disposed off two petitions filed by Apollo Hospitals on Thursday, rejecting the hospital’s request for a panel of medical experts to assist the probe. The court reasoned that 90 percent of the inquiry proceedings had been completed. The judges assured the hospital that if a report submitted by the commission is acted upon, the hospital would be given due opportunity to defend itself in adherence to principles of natural justice.

“Thus it is evident from the above Full Bench decision of this Court that the [Arumughaswamy Commission of Inquiry], as a fact finding body, cannot determine the rights or liabilities or decide any questions of guilt or innocence on any one, who is part of the inquiry before it since the [Commission] is not dealing with a lis between two wrangling parties. The Commission can only offer its opinion to the Government for its mind, with respect to the nature of treatment given by [Apollo Hospital] on the basis of oral and documentary evidence - whether such treatment was adequate or not.” said the court, opining that the aspersions cast by the probe panel on the hospital would not invalidate the inquiry conducted thus far.

While the remarks made by the Commission in connection with the case against Apollo Hospital may or may not make it to the final report, the court pointed out that it is for the state government to act upon the findings. “We hope and trust that the [Commission] will confine his inquiry strictly within the scope and ambit of terms of reference made by the government.” the judges said in reference to Retd Justice Arumugasamy who was tasked with the probe in a state government order passed in September 2017.

Slamming the commission which has sought multiple deadline-extensions to submit its findings, the court said, “Therefore, we find some force in the submission of [Apollo Hospital] that the [Commission] exceeded its scope and ambit in conducting inquiry proceedings by attributing negligence or collusion against [Apollo Hospital] even before the submission of final report to the Government by way of application or counter statement to the application filed by the petitioner, which in our opinion, the Commission could have avoided.”

The court cited the Commission’s submission that 90 percent of the probe had been completed and that only a few witnesses are yet to be examined. Notably, this includes Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam who had called for a probe into Jayalalithaa’s death following a spat with her close aide VK Sasikala, following Jayalalithaa’s death. With the two warring factions of the AIADMK uniting in August 2017, Panneerselvam had made probe into the AIADMK supremo’s death a pre-condition for the merger. However, Panneerselvam has repeatedly skirted summons by the Commission.

The Madras High Court’s verdict on Thursday brought to a close months of a bitter public and legal feud between Apollo Hospital, where the late AIADMK supremo had been receiving treatment prior to her death in December 2016 and the state government-appointed probe panel. While Apollo alleged that the probe panel was unable to comprehend medical terminology the commission's deposition documents of over 50 doctors are riddled with errors due to the inability of the probe panel to comprehend medical terminology, the Commission's counsel accused the hospital of colluding with Jayalalithaa’s close aide VK Sasikala to not provide Jayalalithaa with the 'best recommended treatment'.

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