SC stays panel proceedings in Jayalalithaa's death

New Delhi (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the proceedings of an inquiry commission probing the death of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai in 2016.

The hospital group had moved the apex court challenging a Madras High Court order, which allowed the Arumugasamy Commission to continue the probe.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi decided to stay further proceedings of the inquiry commission. 

The AIADMK-led Tamil Nadu government had commissioned the inquiry into the circumstances leading to the death of Jayalalithaa on December 5, 2016.

The petition filed by the hospitals group said: "Thirty-two doctors of the team treating the late Chief Minister were summoned to depose before the Commission...

"(They) were badgered, humiliated and jointly filed an affidavit before the Madras High Court highlighting the impropriety of the proceedings before the Commission." 

The counsel for the hospital contended that its reputation has suffered severely as a result of the ongoing probe.

"The Commission was conducting the proceedings in an unfair, prejudicial and biased manner which was fortified by the fact that the orders/minutes of proceedings were specifically being leaked...," said the Apollo Hospital petition.

The petition also said that the Madras High Court erred in not recognising the fact that the case of inquiry involved complex medical issues, which is beyond the scope of comprehension of the Commission, as it is not equipped to determine either the circumstances under which the treatment, as opted for, was administered, or even the correctness of the treatment.

The judicial inquiry was ordered by the K. Palaniswami government seven months after the Chief Minister's death.

Suspicion on the death of Jayalalithaa was fuelled by Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam. He said that he was not allowed to see her in the hospital and there was something suspicious about the circumstances around her death.

Panneerselvam later cracked a deal with his successor Chief Minister Palaniswami on the merger of his faction with the AIADMK and was brought on board as Deputy Chief Minister. 

A pre-condition to this merger was a full-fledged inquiry into Jayalalithaa death. 

The Commission was seen as a political tool to target V.K. Sasikala, the now jailed AIADMK matriarch's long-time aide. She had unlimited access to Jayalalithaa at the hospital.

The Commission, headed by a retired high court judge, was supposed to complete the inquiry within three months but it could not and it is still in progress. 

The Apollo hospital halfway through the inquiry said that a 21-member expert medical board be constituted to impart knowledge on medical procedures and protocols of the treatment to the panel.

The hospital had moved the Madras High Court, seeking a stay on the panel's proceedings, and the inquiry shall only begin post constitution of the medial board.

The High Court dismissed its plea and also rejected the argument that a retired judge was not competent to deal with medical complexities involved in the treatment of Jayalalithaa. 

Although the High Court observed that the Commission's procedures seemed strange, it also observed that some averments made on behalf of the Commission were disturbing and unwarranted.

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