Did tussle over Ketan Desai lead to health secy's ouster?

Keshav Desiraju had opposed taking tainted former medical council boss Ketan Desai on board, a fact not to health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s taste, say officials

pankaj

Pankaj Kumar | February 15, 2014


Ketran Desai (left) and Keshav Desiraju.
Ketran Desai (left) and Keshav Desiraju.

Health secretary Keshav Desiraju was removed – in effect ‘transferred’ to the consumer affairs ministry – for not supporting Ketan Desai, the tainted former president of the medical council of India (MCI), as a crucial hand in the council’s current set-up, it is learnt.

Ketan Desai was removed as the MCI president after the central bureau of investigation allegedly caught in 2010, taking bribe in lieu of giving permission to a Patiala-based medical college.

Desai later got elected unopposed from Gujarat University senate and wanted his nomination notified by the union health ministry. But health secretary Desiraju, it is learnt, was opposed to his notification since cases were still pending against Desai in various courts across the country.

“One (such) case is being investigated by CBI-Lucknow and another case – of Gyansagar Medical College, Patiala – is being investigated by CBI-Delhi. So he is not exonerated and a tainted man cannot be reinstated (in MCI, the apex council of medical profession and medical education in India)” said Dr Kunal Saha, an NRI doctor who is president of People for Better Treatment (PBT) and is fighting for years against corruption in medical profession and education. (Read our profile of Dr Saha – Corruption in medicine: The good doctor fights back)

After reconstitution of the new medical council late last year, health secretary Desiraju had reportedly expressed displeasure over its functioning. “The new elected chairperson and her team’s functioning were under the scanner of Desiraju, as in one (file) noting he (the secretary) had mentioned that this team was a proxy team of Ketan Desai,” a senior MCI officer said on conditions of anonymity.

The council was reconstituted in November  2013, with Jayshree Mehta elected its chairperson. Mehta belongs to Gujarat and is regarded as a close confidante of Ketan Desai.

“Secretary Desiraju had himself pointed out in his noting that several undesirable elements have entered the medical council, and that most decisions are being taken by the group led by Ketan Desai,” a previous member of the Board of Governors (name withheld on request) said.

Sources said union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad wanted to reinstate Ketan Desai after his name got cleared from the MCI’s ethics committee but Desiraju was reportedly opposed to this.  

Another point of contention between Azad and Desiraju  was over rule 10(A) of IMC Act, which says the central government gives final approval over recommendations of MCI on opening of new medical colleges, increase of postgraduate seats and introduction of new courses. This rule was inserted in Indian Medical Council Act in 1993 after medical colleges began mushrooming across India.

“the minister either wanted to abdicate the responsibilities of health ministry or indirectly wanted to empower the council further. So he wanted a legislation over this issue so that provision 10(A) is fully given to the medical council, where the ministry would have no role,” a senior health ministry official said. “But Desiraju had serious reservations on this, as he knew this would further propagate corruption in MCI.”

This tussle, officials in the know said, resulted in Desiraju’s ouster from the ministry.

Desiraju is regarded as an officer of impeccable integrity. Incidentally, he is a grandson of former president S Radhakrishnan.

Incidentally, prime minister Manmohan Singh had also been surprise over Ketan Desai’s reinstatement in the council in 2009 after his ouster in 2001 following a high court order.

Now, Desiraju’s transfer is a further violation of the supreme court’s order. The apex court had asked the Centre and the state governments to take steps to insulate the bureaucracy from political pulls and pressures, and also ensure fixed tenures for serving officers.

‘Shenanigans’ in MCI

Governance Now had last year reported that the World Medical Association had reinstated Desai as   president (read it here) of MCI with the contention that he had been cleared in all cases. Cases, though are still pending against him – Governance Now has a copy of the CBI letter which mentions that Ketan Desai has not been let off but false affidavit was served to the World Medical Association.

Dr Saha had protested to the World Medical Association and written to the CBI director to cancel Desai’s bail, arguing that the latter was misleading WMA.
Soon after taking charge, Jayshree Mehta took some important  decisions, including clearing Desai’s name to practice medicine in December 2013.

Ketan Desai was barred from practising medicine based on Dr Kunal Saha’s first complaint to the Gujarat medical council after Desai’s arrest by CBI in 2010. But with the Gujarat council doing nothing against Desai for several months, the issue was taken up by thgen MCI chairman Dr  SK Sarin.

Desai was finally barred but his suspension was later challenged by Gujarat medical council, which said that the MCI had no power to suspend Desai’s licence since he was registered with the state council.

The suspension was finally revoked in December 2013 after Jayshree Mehta took over at the MCI a month prior to that. Three other chairmen preceding her had not taken that step.

“See how one institution after another has failed to stop corrupt people like Ketan Desai,” Dr Saha told Governance Now. “The health secretary got punished for not notifying his nomination. Our organisation (PBA) will soon file a PIL against the recent fake election conducted in MCI and ouster of Kesav Desiraju.”

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