Keshav Desiraju, Former Health Secretary and an Upright IAS Officer Is No More
Moneylife Digital Team 06 September 2021
Keshav Desiraju, former Union secretary for health and the grandson of India’s former president Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, passed away in Chennai on Sunday. The 66-year-old former officer from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) suffered a cardiac arrest. 
 
After retirement, Mr Desiraju remained involved in public health issues, particularly on mental health, primary health care and community health.
 
In 2018, he, along with Samiran Nundy and Dr Sanjay Nagral co-authored a book Healers or Predators? Healthcare Corruption in India, which has over 40 essays written by researchers, doctors, academics, activists and a journalist.  He has written many books including a biography of legendary singer MS Subbulakshmi, titled Of Gifted Voice: The Life and Art of MS Subbulakshmi.
 
According to a report from DowntoEarth, in February 2014, just 11 months after becoming the health secretary, he was summarily transferred to the ministry of consumer affairs.

The report says, "There were allegations that this was done because he refused to allow Ketan Desai, the former director of the Medical Council of India, to be reinstated. Desai was implicated in corruption, holding disproportionate assets and allegedly receiving an Rs2 crore bribe to give recognition to a private medical college based in Patiala."

"Another reason for his removal from the health ministry was said to be his reluctance to give licence to a foreign manufacturer of stents. The device is used in procedures such as angioplasty for heart patients," the report added.
 
The former IAS officer from Uttarakhand cadre was also known for his keen engagement with public health and governance. His passion to ensure accountability in healthcare and engagement with everyone to improve service delivery was felt by everyone who worked with him. 
 
Many of his colleagues and successors remember him as a man with silent courage and the ability to carry his team with him. This made Mr Desiraju a valued mentor and leader for many, especially those working in the healthcare sector.
 
K Sujatha Rao, former Union secretary for health and former member on a board of the WHO, says, "Mr Desiraju, grandson of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, was loved and appreciated for his honesty and decency. This set him apart. He was a pillar of strength to many."
 
Amitabh Kant, chief executive (CEO) of Niti Aayog, while referring to Mr Desiraju’s book on MS Subbulakshmi, says, the former secretary for health was a “remarkable human being, a professional civil servant, and a progressive intellectual.”
 
 
 
Nata Menabde, executive director of WHO Office at the UN, also paid rich tribute to Mr Desiraju. 
 
 
US-based Thakur Foundation, set up by Ranbaxy whistle-blower Dinesh Thakur, says it mourns the loss of Mr Desiraju. “He was instrumental in everything we did to advance the cause of public health in India. A visionary and downright humble civil servant, gone too soon,” it says in a tweet message.
 
 
In his tribute, Prasanto, in a tweet says, “Much loved is rarely said with honesty for bureaucrats, but Keshav was an exception. One of the finest bureaucrats ever.”
 
 
"Erudite, humble, courageous. Opposed corruption by those who milked gravy train of medical education," is how Dr Nagral, who co-edited a book with Mr Desiraju remembers the former Union secretary.
 
 
Mr Desiraju had a Master’s degree in Economics from the University of Cambridge and another in Public Administration from the John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
 
He was the grandson of India’s second President, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. The irony is that while the country was showing respect to all teachers on Dr Radhakrishnan’s birthday, his grandson decided to join him in the eternal journey. 
 
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