Why Health Secy Keshav Desiraju Was Transferred

something strange happened in mid-february. the bureaucrat who heads india’s union ministry of health was abruptly transferred. and none of the explanations doing the rounds seemed to make much sense.

Why was health secretary Keshav Desiraju transferred? Two days ago, in a statement reproduced by the Press Trust of India, Azad said: “Officers’ and ministers’ portfolios change — it is a regular affair.” In a statement released on Thursday afternoon, the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, an umbrella organisation of public health professionals, disagreed: “It is inconceivable that a routine transfer would be effected in such a precipitate manner, especially when no replacement for Mr Desiraju appears to have been decided upon.”

The news took even ministry officials by surprise. Senior ministry officials told ET there were no visible signs of tension between the secretary and the health minister. What made the government’s decision even more surprising is that Desiraju had been health secretary for just a year. By transferring him, the government appeared to be violating a Supreme Court order last October directing the government to ensure fixed tenures for bureaucrats — to insulate them from political pulls and pressures. Said former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramanian, “This is fully contempt of court.”