The posts in Directorate General of Health Services are responsible for overseeing eradication of diseases and working of premier hospitals in Delhi.
New Delhi: The Modi government has done little to address vital staff shortage in an apex medical body tasked with implementing some of the country’s largest health programmes.
At least six crucial top positions are lying vacant in the Directorate General of Health Services, the technical wing of the health ministry responsible for implementing various programmes to control malaria, Japanese encephalitis, tuberculosis, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, stroke and cancer, among others.
The posts require administrative officers but some of them have not been filled for as long as two years.
The positions lying idle are that of two special director generals (DGs) and four additional director generals (ADGs). They are usually filled by doctors from the Central Health Services (CHS) who join the cadre after passing a qualifying examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
The officials are also responsible for overseeing the implementation of policies, research and development and imparting education in the field of drugs and medical devices. They further supervise the work done by the country’s drug watchdog, the Drug Controller General of India.
The vacant positions also oversee the working of the central government’s three top hospitals — Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Safdarjung Hospital, Lady Hardinge Medical College — apart from supervising the functioning of All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
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Such has been the staff shortage in the directorate that the post of DGHS, its top officer, is being held by Dr S. Venkatesh, who was promoted from the deputy director-general rank, three notches below the DGHS, in June 2018.
A government official, however, told ThePrint that it is now stepping up efforts to fill the vacancies. “To fill up the vacancies in DGHS offices is our top priority and we are expecting the positions to be filled up very soon,” Preeti Sudan, health secretary, told ThePrint. “We have been looking to fill up these positions by creating positions for others (who have been superannuated).”
In 2016, the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had approved the enhancement of superannuation age of government doctors to 65 years, other than those of the CHS.
For the CHS doctors of the non-teaching specialist category, public health specialist category and GDMO sub-cadres, the government decided to place those who have attained the age of 62 in non-administrative positions, virtually stripping them of powers to implement decisions.
Since then, several officers after attaining the age of 62 have been moved from administrative positions to advisory roles. These officers earlier held the administrative positions of special DG, deputy DG and additional DG.
The positions they vacated have not been filled.
For instance, in September 2016, the health ministry posted Dr N.S. Dharamshaktu, who was then special DG, as principal adviser to head the implementation programme for vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, chikungunya and kala azar.
His powers, however, are limited, unlike administrative powers. A health ministry source said the new posts are honorarium ones where officials can only advise but cannot implement decisions. They also lose their financial powers.
This April, another special DG, B.D. Athani, who helmed critical programmes, including the national programme for the control of blindness, deafness and disability issues, was made a principal consultant.
While the ministry started converting administrative posts into non-administrative ones, it did not notify them and has not really defined their roles.
“The salaries to these officers are given from the same fund as before,” said a senior bureaucrat from the health ministry. “The purpose of increasing the age for superannuation of medical faculty is totally damaged as the work is stuck between the advisers who don’t have any power to implement their own orders.”
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