AIIMS hit by row over dept head's rehiring

The government's decision to re-employ the head of a department in AIIMS on contract basis with all administrative powers intact after superannuation has rung alarm bells among both faculty and former professors in the premier institute. They feel this departure from the norm could compromise the autonomy of the institute's faculty.
The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) approved the proposal for re-employment on contract basis of Dr G K Rath as professor of radiotherapy, chief of the Dr BRAIRCH (AIIMS cancer centre) and head of the upcoming National Cancer Institute for three years, extendable by two years after review.
This decision was communicated to the health ministry on September 29, a day before the superannuation of Dr Rath. He has been heading the radiotherapy department for 25 years and has been the chief of the institute's cancer centre for about nine years.
"We are not against any individual, but this move sets a very bad precedent. There will be several others now lobbying to get re-employment on similar terms. That will compromise the autonomy of the institute. It is a basic tenet of the government not to give administrative powers to someone being given re-employment.
"Something like this is being done for the first time in the history of AIIMS. It will destroy the institution. We wrote to the Prime Minister's Office and to the Union health minister a month back when we came to know such a move was being considered. As usual, they never bothered to respond," said Dr C S Bal, president of the Faculty Association of AIIMS (FAIIMS).
Another office-bearer of FAIIMS elaborated on how such a decision could destroy the independence of AIIMS faculty. "AIIMS doctors are called to give an opinion on the status of health of important and powerful people like Dayalu Ammal in Tamil Nadu or Asaram Bapu when they are facing cases in court. We give our opinion without worrying about any political backlash because our career advancement is according to set norms. But now, everyone will be looking to please the politicians in power for extensions and re-appointments," said the doctor.
Contractual appointment and consequent ad hocism at the highest level also forces appointees to be loyal to the government, argued other faculty members. They pointed out that Dr P K Julka had also been reappointed last year, but he had to relinquish his administrative positions.
Many heads of departments due to retire in the next couple of months are learnt to be lobbying hard for re-appointments with full administrative powers, confirming the faculty's apprehensions that this could set a precedent. They have been heads of departments for over 10 years on an average.
"Every department needs a new leadership periodically... Nobody is indispensable. If a person is so keen to serve patients or if the plea is shortage of manpower, the older person can always be re-employed without administrative powers or continue as emeritus professor," said a former professor of AIIMS.

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