The recent controversial transfer of Keshav Desiraju from the post of Union health secretary has resulted in a stir among many former bureaucrats as well as eminent personalities from various spheres, who have written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the matter.
They have raised concerns over the transfer and have sought constitution of a high level committee to review the current legislation governing the Medical Council of India (MCI).
Desiraju was apparently transferred following his unwillingness to accept Dr Ketan Desai, former Medical Council of India (MCI) president as a key functionary in the current medical council. According to sources, Desiraju’s dissent may not have gone well with the government.
Opinion leaders including Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy, Biocon Chairman and Managing Director Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, former government secretaries Sujatha Rao and Naresh Dayal have sent a strongly worded letter to the PM questioning the unceremonious exit of Desiraju from the health ministry and its links with MCI.
The letter, sent through an e-mail on February 19 , said, “The transfer is in violation of the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in WP 234 of 2011, wherein it was directed that in the interests of good governance, tenures of senior ranking officials be made for two years...It is therefore, unfortunate that a capable and competent officer has been summarily removed and without even following any procedure”.
Desiraju, who was shunted out to Consumer Affairs Department as secretary, was appointed health secretary less than a year ago. “Since we are at a loss to understand the reasons for this sudden transfer of Keshav Desiraju from the post of Health Secretary, we cannot but construe that the motivation could have something to do with his reluctance to notify Dr Ketan Desai as member of the Medical Council of India,” the letter said.
Questioning the procedure adopted in transferring Desiraju, former health secretary Sujatha Rao said, “The procedure of the transfer was not proper. He has next two years of his service left. So there was no sudden reason to transfer him and if there is any, the ministry must give it in writing as per the Supreme Court direction.” The former health secretary added that the letter has said that rules cannot be sacrificed and secretaries cannot be treated like that anymore “for the sake of MCI and Ketan Desai.”
Desai, who has been accused of many wrongdoings and chargesheeted in several cases since 2001 and was removed from MCI in 2002 following a Delhi High Court order, was again nominated by Gujarat University for the reconstituted council last year. While Desai managed to get himself acquitted of these charges, he was charged again in 2010 by the CBI, while serving as the MCI Chairperson.
He was arrested in April 2010 on charges of disproportionate assets and for allegedly receiving a Rs 2 crore bribe to give recognition to a private medical college based in Patiala.
The MCI had also suspended Desai's license to practice medicine as a consequence of these charges. While Desai has been cleared of many charges, all charges against him have not been dropped.
The letter, signed by many others such as historian and writer Ramachandra Guha, West Bengal former governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, member 14th Finance Commission Govind Rao, senior journalist N Ram and some academicians, called for a review of “The adequacy of current legislation governing the MCI and come up with recommendations on the steps that can be taken to insulate it from political interference, while also ensuring that the standards set are strictly adhered to”.
Rao emphasized that the sudden transfer of Desiraju to Consumer Affairs is “a deliberate humiliation for the upright and honest bureaucrat”.
Desiraju, the grandson of Dr S Radhakrishnan, is a 1978-batch IAS officer from Uttarakhand cadre. He joined the ministry as additional secretary in 2010, after completing his tenure as the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand. In bureaucratic circles, Desiraju is known for his “impeccable honesty and integrity”.