Doctoring his way to the top

Ketan Desai remains mired in several controversies, but he has only risen through the ranks

pankaj

Pankaj Kumar | October 28, 2016


#World Medical Association   #WMA   #Medical Council of India   #MCI   #Ketan Desai   #Health  


Ketan Desai, a famous name in the medical world, is a man with unimaginable access and influence in the power galleries, be it in Gujarat or Delhi, with Congress or BJP. And his election as the chairman of the World Medical Association (WMA), despite facing several corruption charges, validates the same.

Who is Ketan Desai?


Hailing from Gujarat, Desai graduated from BJ Medical College of Ahmedabad in 1983 and became the head of its urology department the same year. Soon, he won several medical body elections. Thereon, he served as the president of the Medical Council of India, Gujarat Medical Council, Dentist Council of India and the Indian Medical Association.

His controversies

Desai was arrested by the CBI on charges of corruption in 2010, when he was the MCI head. Following this, the president of India signed an ordinance empowering the government to dissolve the medical council.

In a letter to the then union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, then prime minister Manmohan Singh had reportedly asked for a “detailed report” and action taken by the ministry in the bribery case against Desai.

According to various reports, in 2010, Rs 2 crore was recovered from Desai which he had allegedly collected as bribe for granting recognition to Gian Sagar Medical College in Punjab while serving as MCI chief. About 1.5 kg of gold and 80 kg of silver was also found from his possession. The CBI probe found that he also owned a number of palatial houses, benami assets and jewellery. 

The same year, two separate cases, in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, were filed against him alleging his involvement in a conspiracy to have the MCI allow private medical schools to add more students. The Delhi case was put on hold due to a pending appeal in the supreme court and the Uttar Pradesh district court put the other case on hold last year until investigators obtain the government’s permission to prosecute.  

After his arrest in 2010, as many as eight FIRs were filed against him and so far he has got acquittal in six of them, while two are still pending.

Earlier in 2001, the Delhi high court had framed charges against Desai and CBI was asked to prosecute him. Desai managed to come out clean. A former official of MCI, on condition of anonymity, explained how Desai managed that. “It was found that an ineligible candidate, qualification-wise and age-wise, was given a job in the council. This candidate was a blood relative of a member of the investigating team of the CBI. Can CBI and Desai negate these charges which were framed by the high court? All powers of the MCI’s executive committee were usurped by Desai, who was chairman of the committee. For example, the power to appoint the inspector was usurped by him. Also, Rs 65 lakh were found in Desai’s bank account.”

He further adds, “While he was being investigated by the CBI in eight cases, Desai visited the residence of former CBI director Ranjit Sinha nine times. Noted lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan accused Sinha of striking a deal to let Desai go scot-free.”

Another former official recollects how former health secretary Keshav Desiraju was transferred to another ministry because he had opposed the re-entry of tainted Desai into MCI.

The wedding of Desai’s daughter in 2014 was attended by many top national political leaders including Amit Shah and Mulayam Singh Yadav. According to a report in the Indian Express, Mulayam had tried to help Desai after he was arrested and was investigated by the CBI in the 2010 corruption case. “In December 2013, Yadav is learnt to have written to the then health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, to reinstate him in the MCI,” said the report.

According to the NGO People for Better Treatment (PBT), Desai gets a lot of help from his long-time supporter, Dr KK Aggarwal, who is now the secretary general of IMA. “Ironically, Dr Aggarwal, as he has openly boasted on his web page, is also the brother-in-law of Mukul Rohatgi, attorney general of India. With this close nexus and direct family ties between the top legal man for the Indian government and the top medical man of IMA, we are anxious whether victims of medical negligence and healthcare corruption will be facing even stiffer challenges in their quest for justice,” writes PBT, a voluntary organisation that fights medical malpractices and corruption in healthcare.

On October 21, soon after Desai was named the WMA chief, PBT founder Kunal Saha sent a legal notice to MCI, demanding immediate action to stop this “atrocity”. “Almost two years have passed, MCI and health ministry have remained in a deep slumber and refused to take any steps to stop the biggest medical mafia of Indian medicine and a criminally-indicted Dr Ketan Desai from assuming the prestigious post of WMA president… If the MCI and health ministry fail to take any action, PBT will move the appropriate court of law to bring an end to this sheer atrocity that has shaken the core of the Indian and world medical community,” PBT India wrote on its website.

The WMA, a global body with 112 national medical associations, is responsible to “establish and promote the highest possible standards of ethical behaviour and care by physicians”. It is an irony that the saviour of medical ethics and professional competence has appointed a tainted man as its president. Such a practice not only poses a risk of hurting the medical field but also puts at stake the nation’s image abroad. 


Ketan Desai’s association with the World Medical Association


2007: Desai runs for the post of WMA president, but loses
2009: He is named as a future president of WMA
2010: His inauguration as the WMA president is suspended because of his arrest in the 2010 Delhi case
2013: WMA decides to lift the suspension after receiving assurances from IMA
July 2015: Reports suggest that IMA had incorrectly told WMA that charges against Desai had been withdrawn. The WMA said it would look into the matter
October 2015: WMA upholds its decision to appoint Desai as president, without giving reasons.

pankaj@governancenow.com

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