Above: AIADMK ministers, functionaries and cadres in front of the Apollo Hospitals where party chief J Jayalalithaa was admitted/Photo: UNI
The Supreme Court came to the aid of Apollo Hospital which felt that the inquiry commission looking into the admission of Jayalalithaa there in 2016 had adopted an “adversarial” attitude towards it
By R Ramasubramanian in Chennai
In major relief for Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, the Supreme Court on April 26 stayed all proceedings of the Justice A Arumughaswamy Commission which was inquiring into the circumstances relating to the admission of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in 2016. She died on December 5, 2016.
Admitting a Special Leave Petition by Apollo Hospitals, a three-judge Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna granted an interim stay for four weeks and ordered notices to Tamil Nadu, the Justice Arumughaswamy Commission and VK Sasikala, a close aide of Jayalalithaa who is languishing in Parapanahara prison in Bengaluru after she was convicted in a corruption case in February 2017.
Jayalalithaa was admitted to Apollo Hospitals on September 22, 2016. She was suffering from a host of ailments. Though several specialists from across the globe treated her, she died of a massive cardiac arrest on December 5. Ever since, various conspiracy theories have been floating in the state—Jayalalithaa was brought dead to the Hospital, she was poisoned slowly over the years, she was in a vegetative state throughout her stay in the hospital for 75 days and so on. On March 3, 2017, the Tamil Nadu government released a press release stating that the Apollo Hospitals treatment was appreciated by a team of doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and that the best possible treatment was provided by it.
However, due to a huge public furore generated by the conspiracy theories and hatred towards Sasikala, who people believed was instrumental in her death, the Tamil Nadu government constituted a one-man inquiry commission to look into the matter. It was headed by retired Madras High Court judge Justice A Arumughaswamy. A government order issued in this regard stipulated the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the Commission—to inquire into the circumstances and situation leading to the hospitalisation of Jayalalithaa on September 22, 2016, and the subsequent treatment provided till her demise.
Trouble started after Apollo Hospitals felt it would be penalised in the larger political game. It approached Madras High Court and asked for the constitution of a medical board because the inquiry commission lacked adequate medical expertise to understand the terminology used by its doctors while deposing before it. However, the High Court rejected the hospital’s petition on April 4, but cautioned the inquiry commission to stick to the ToR and not go beyond it.
However, the commission was unrelenting and issued summons to 10 doctors and two others of Apollo Hospitals to depose before it. Strangely, it also asked Apollo Hospitals to furnish the complete medical records and treatment protocol of MG Ramachandran (MGR), chief minister of Tamil Nadu from 1977 to 1987.
MGR was hospitalised in 1984 in Apollo Hospitals and died in 1987. It was at this stage that the Apollo Hospitals moved the Supreme Court and got an interim relief.
In its 36-page affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the hospital said that the commission had adopted an “adversarial” attitude towards the hospital despite it furnishing 30 volumes of medical records, two CDs of CT scans, a DVD of an ECHO cardiogram, microbiology, biochemistry and several other tests. Further, 55 doctors along with nurses and paramedical staff of the hospital had personally deposed before the commission and furnished all details of the treatment given to the late CM.
The hospital petition further said that 32 doctors of the team treating Jayalalithaa, who were summoned to depose before the commission as witnesses, were badgered and humiliated. They then jointly filed an affidavit before the High Court highlighting the impropriety of the proceedings of the commission. The Court ignored the affidavit and stated that as the commission had provided seats to the doctors, it had treated the witnesses with respect. The Court further stated that questions were put to the witnesses in the presence of their counsel and therefore, it could not be said that they were degraded.
This seemed incorrect as the witnesses had no counsel on record. It was submitted that the “Commission was conducting the proceedings in an unfair, prejudicial manner which was fortified by the fact that the orders/minutes of proceedings were specifically being leaked to the press”.
The senior counsel for Apollo Hospitals, CA Sundaram, argued that the Madras High Court had erred in not staying the proceedings of the Commission despite saying they were “strange” and even censuring it for the manner of conducting the inquiry. The Court had allowed the commission to proceed on the ground that its findings were not binding as it was open for the state to take further steps, said Sundaram.
“The Commission’s proceedings were basically adversarial in nature and thus putting the reputation and safety of the Apollo Hospitals in jeopardy,” he argued.
Two months after Jayalalithaa’s death, Apollo Hospitals arranged a press conference by Dr Richard Beale, a UK-based intensivist who treated Jayalalithaa. “Jayalalithaa had come to hospital with sepsis and was conscious. She had co-morbidities and uncontrolled diabetes.
Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to infection injures its own tissues and organs,” he said. “The issue of transferring her to London was discussed at length. In the early phase, the risk-benefit balance did not justify a journey of that length. Later, it emerged that she did not want to move.”
It seems that Jayalalithaa’s tryst with the judiciary will continue even after her death. When alive, she was embroiled in various corruption cases along with Sasikala. While she emerged unscathed in almost all the cases, in the disproportionate assets case she was convicted for four years by a lower court.
However, she was acquitted by the Karnataka High Court. But after her death, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court judgment and sentenced Sasikala and two others to four years’ imprisonment.