New Delhi: The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the hub of activity in the middle of the Covid pandemic, is all set to lose five senior officers in one go. While one additional secretary is going on study leave, four others, most of them joint secretary-rank officers, have been transferred or repatriated.
All the movement is routine, but comes at a particularly busy time for the ministry and within a short period of new Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya taking charge in July.
Among the five officers set to leave the ministry are Joint Secretary Rekha Shukla, an IRS officer who is going back to her cadre, and economic adviser Arun Kumar, an officer of the Indian Economic Service returning to his cadre with a promotion.
Joint Secretary Preeti Pant was transferred to the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development earlier this month, while Joint Secretary Nipun Vinayak returns to his parent cadre Maharashtra in the coming days.
Additional Secretary and Mission Director for National Health Mission (NHM) Vandana Gurnani, meanwhile, is all set to go on study leave. The four others apart from Pant are scheduled to leave the ministry next month.
The departures come at a time when Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal, who has been the best-known face of the government on Covid, is currently away from the ministry, nursing a fractured leg.
ThePrint reached the Ministry of Health through email for a comment on the impact of the multiple departures within a short period of time, but there was no response by the time of publishing this report.
A senior official in the ministry said the government “does not stop functioning because of transfers”.
“Obviously, these posts will be filled up soon enough. One person has already replaced Ms Preeti Pant, others will join soon,” the official added.
What their roles are
Gurnani served as an ex-officio member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, which is directly involved in the Covid vaccination decision-making process. However, according to the work allocation of the ministry, Covid vaccination is the remit of another Additional Secretary, Manohar Agnani.
“You have to understand that, till very recently, almost the entire ministry was associated in some capacity or the other with pandemic management. Things though have begun to change in the last few months,” Said a second ministry official on the condition of anonymity.
As part of her responsibility overseeing immunisations, Gurnani has also been a crucial cog in the ministry’s interactions with states, particularly on Covid vaccinations.
Among the others, Shukla has been the brain behind the new crowdfunding initiative of the Ministry of Health for the treatment of rare diseases. She also looks after the leprosy programme, the non-communicable diseases programme, and initiatives to tackle vector-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria.
Pant was mainly responsible for the National Urban Health Mission, and her other responsibilities included the national programme against deafness and the oral health programme.
Vinayak is principally responsible for medical education, with the various councils such as pharmacy, dental etc coming under his jurisdiction. Arun Kumar looks after NHM finance and multiple other finance-related portfolios.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)