Millennium Post

Cleaning with wrong broom

Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) Dr Harshvardhan will not find himself covering with glory when Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes a roll call on the performance of his colleagues on completion of three months in office. This is sad because Vardhan came to office with very high reputation of an honest performer and was expected to deliver better than many of his colleagues, whose calibre was still untested.

However, the doctor, who has enjoyed reputation of a politician with unimpeachable sense of integrity, has got himself embroiled in matters which have raised questions on the ‘honesty’ of the decisions he took.  Some of the recent decisions of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) have brought Vardhan under public scrutiny. He has been in public life for two decades and never before has he been questioned for his honesty.

Therefore some of the moves like taking the Medical Council of India to task for derecognising medical colleges in private sector for not meeting the regulator’s standard or shifting out the chief vigilance officer of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Sanjeev Chaturvedi, who in the past two years unearthed many a scams in the premier health institute, has put a question mark on him.

The orders replacing Chaturvedi categorically mentioned that it had the approval of the Health Minister. The order however did not specify reasons for shifting Chaturvedi out leaving people to speculate that he has been made to pay a price for taking on senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member Jagat Prakash Nadda. The move sent shockwaves as it came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that corruption was a disease bigger than cancer. It also provided a fast losing steam Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to fire fresh salvos at rival BJP, dragging in the name of senior party leader and minister for external affairs Sushma Swaraj as being a party to the move.

In removing the officer, the minister ignored standing orders from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) - passed under the previous government - the Central Services Board and commitments made by Health ministry to Parliament. Vardhan also ignored the recommendations made against such a move by his ministry as late as May this year. According approval to such shenanigans has put the functioning of the Minister in poor light.

In his defence the minister issued a very amateurish statement saying that in removing Chaturvedi he has restored the prestige of the office of the chief vigilance commissioner, which had been denigrated by the Congress. I failed to comprehend how would that happen? However, the challenge which he has at hand is not to restore the prestige of the CVC, which the prime minister can look after but restore efficacy of the health ministry institutions.

I am glad that in the same statement he said, ‘In my first 90 days in office hardly a day has passed without inquiring into the transparency of the ministry and its outposts. Very soon the results are going to be in the public domain. There are many aspects to corruption in hospitals which as a medico I know exist. If money is made in the allocation of beds or as kickbacks from suppliers, it is sleaze. What is equally corrupt is the silent practice of reserving beds and facilities for employees or VIPs. I intend rectifying both these forms of corruption.’

The Minister said that shortly after assuming office he personally inspected AIIMS and all the central hospitals in New Delhi. He claimed visiting four of the six new AIIMS and the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) with a view to suggesting new ways to improve their services. But these are not big achievements to make claims about.

Vardhan’s tenure at the helm would be considered successful only if he is able to bring a paradigm shift in the health services making it easily accessible and non-exploitive of the patients. His predecessor in Vajpayee government, Dr CP Thakur gave the city a medical college at Safdarjung hospital and started post-graduate teaching block at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital. It was the Vajpayee government which visualised setting-up of All India Institutes of Medical Sciences across several other states.  And closer home, Thakur visualised building of Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan Trauma Centre. He did not go around checking the number of beds. End scarcity of beds and there would be no money making on the allocation of beds.

Vardhan is a capable doctor and as Health minister of Delhi showed vision for improving health infrastructure. His recent actions, however, show that either he is not in control of his Ministry or he is not able to stand up to his party colleagues who may be advocating a malicious cause for reasons best known to them. If such a situation does exist in a major ministry of the government, it’s disturbing news.

So far as the Health minister of the country he has failed to show the spunk to take on corruption; rather his actions have looked like patronising the corrupt. This trait proved to the ‘infirmitas’ of another honest politician – Dr Manmohan Singh, who incidentally had first famously used the Caesarean proverb , Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion,  way back in 1996 to point a finger at his boss PV Narasimha Rao and brought him under a cloud.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post 

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