How Corrections To Witness Testimony Were “Erased” By Arumughaswamy Commission

An officer in the Commission probing late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s death is now alleged to have actively removed crucial corrections to recorded testimony

By Sandhya Ravishankar

The Lede first reported the ‘six faces’  of the Arumughaswamy Commission which includes poor record keeping and a lack of medical expertise while dealing with specialist witnesses.

Now a key witness, Dr Madan Kumar, one among the team of doctors who had fitted the late Chief Minister to the ECMO machine in a last ditch attempt to save her life on 04 December 2016, has alleged that the Commission had “erased” his corrections to his testimony before the Commission.

On 29 November 2018, Dr Madan Kumar had deposed before the Arumughaswamy Commission for over three hours. According to his petition filed before the Commission on 02 January – “However, while my deposition was being recorded and typed, 15-20 seconds was wrongly translated as 15-20 minutes and I immediately pointed it out and my counsel also submitted that it was seconds not minutes.”

But the corrections were not carried out. 

The doctor was informed by the court clerk Palanisamy that the retired judge had left and that he had to sign the deposition. “Mr Palanisamy told me that I could not meet the Hon’ble Justice since he had already left and that I had to sign the page and cannot even make any endorsement on the fair copy that I had asked the particular sentence deleted. He informed me if I did not sign it would be endorsed that I “refused” to do so.”

The doctor then left without signing the third page of his deposition. It may be noted here that it is mandatory for the judge to be present when witnesses read through depositions so that any corrections that may need to be carried out can be done in front of the judge.

The next day, according to Dr Madan Kumar, he went back to the Commission to ensure that the corrections were made before the judge in his testimony. The court clerk appears to have told the doctor that he had to sign and that he cannot make any endorsement clarifying why the corrections needed to be made in his deposition. The doctor states that he wrote a note to the judge explaining the need for the crucial correction in pencil at the bottom of the third page – this was, according to the affidavit – “erased”.

The doctor also claims that he had corrected himself in his deposition with regard to a statement he is reported to have made regarding brain death. He claims that despite his insisting on the necessary correction to be made in the recorded deposition, it was not carried out.

The Lede has learnt from sources that following the petition filed on 27 December 2018 by the Standing Counsel for the Commission, witnesses who have thus far deposed are now apprehensive at the turn of events. Doctors at Apollo Hospital are likely to submit fresh affidavits or petitions similar to the one by Dr Madan Kumar pointing out errors while recording their testimonies.

As pointed out by Dr Madan Kumar in his petition – “Recording incorrect facts, which are contrary to every tenet of Medicine in such a crucial area pertaining to the Late Chief Minister’s treatment will only make an already complex area of medical jurisprudence even more ambiguous for a judicial Forum to interpret.”

Sasikala Demands Full Disclosure

Counsel for Sasikala, lawyer Raja Senthoor Pandian too has filed an application before the Commission.

Terming the 27 December petition filed by the Standing Counsel for the Commission “vindictive’, Sasikala’s counsel denies the allegation that “failure to take Angio test or angiogram in time has let (sic) to deterioration of her health, which is suggestive of collusion” between Sasikala and Apollo Hospital in the treatment of the late Chief Minister.

The petition by the Commission’s counsel also refers to the current Chief Secretary Girija Vaidyanathan’s responses to two letters sent by the Commission seemingly on the cabinet meetings and letters sent during the time of Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation.

Funnily though, while Girija Vaidyanathan’s responses have been submitted to the Commission and shared with both Sasikala’s and Apollo’s counsel, the queries sent by the Commission to the Chief Secretary have not been shared.

And this, points out Sasikala’s counsel is crucial to understand the context and nature of the Chief Secretary’s responses.

Sasikala’s counsel is also furious at the remarks made by Law Minister C.Ve. Shanmugam and Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar just before the new year. “Ministers passing such comments will amount to putting external pressure on the Commission and this is not acceptable,” said Pandian at a press interaction on 02 January.