Keshav Desiraju was transferred as he was reportedly unwilling to accept the appointment of a graft-tainted official to the MCI

The sudden removal of Union Health and Family Welfare Secretary Keshav Desiraju has been described by the public health community as a matter of “grave concern.” Some media reports linked the action to his unwillingness to accept Dr. Ketan Desai, who has in the past been accused of corruption, as a key functionary of the Medical Council of India.

Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, however, termed Mr. Desiraju’s transfer, within 11 months of his appointment, a “regular affair.” Sources in the Ministry said the decision was taken by the Prime Minister’s Office. The official, a 1978 batch officer from Uttarakhand cadre, is now in the Department of Consumer Affairs.

In a strongly worded statement, the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan asked the Centre clarify why a ‘capable officer’ (in the government’s own words) was asked to relinquish charge in such an unseemly manner. “It is inconceivable that a routine transfer would be affected in such a precipitate manner, nor is there any evidence that Mr. Desiraju’s services were urgently required in the Ministry of Consumer Affairs.”

It said the transfer violated the spirit of the Supreme Court’s ruling of October 2013, in which the court asked the Centre and all State governments to take steps within three months to insulate the bureaucracy from political pulls and pressures, and also ensure fixed tenures for serving officers.

“Of even greater concern are media reports that Mr. Desiraju’s transfer is linked to some of his decisions. Key among these, as reported in sections of the media, is his unwillingness to accept Dr. Desai as a key functionary of the MCI,” said Amit Sengupta, member of the JSA’s National Co-ordination Committee.

According to Dr. Vikram Patel, an international expert on mental health, Mr. Desiraju was a champion of the right to health of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups. “Under his leadership, we now have a new Mental Health Care Bill, an expanded National Mental Health Programme, and a draft Mental Health Policy.”

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