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HomeIndiaGujarat officer Ajay Chauhan wins first Keshav Desiraju Memorial Award for mental...

Gujarat officer Ajay Chauhan wins first Keshav Desiraju Memorial Award for mental health

Chauhan was awarded for his significant contributions to the District Mental Health Program in the state since 2006.

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New Delhi: The first ‘Keshav Desiraju Memorial Award for Outstanding Public Service in Mental Health’ was awarded to Ajay Chauhan Wednesday for his contributions as the state nodal officer for mental health in Gujarat since 2006.

Chauhan has also made significant improvements to the District Mental Health Program in the state since 2006.

The Keshav Desiraju Memorial Award aims to recognise the contributions and efforts made by government officials in the field of mental health in India. The award consists of a plaque with citation and a cash prize of Rs 50,000.

Keshav Desiraju, a former union health secretary, is credited with advancing the Mental Healthcare Bill 2012, which later became the Mental Healthcare Act 2017. The bill, considered path-breaking, introduced provisions that allowed for a person to call out the nature of treatment that one should be provided if she or he was to develop mental illness later in their lives.

The jury members of the recent award included Sujatha Rao, former Union secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; Amitabha Bhattacharya, former principal adviser in-charge of education and culture in the Planning Commission of India; and Anant Bhan Anant, adjunct visiting professor, Yenepoya (deemed-to-be university) in Karnataka.

“We must confess that we were pleasantly surprised to get a large number of applications from people who are working with the government in the field of mental health. It made choosing the awardee that much of a challenge,” Rao said while announcing the winner.

“Ajay Chauhan has an impressive career trajectory of working within the system since 2002. He is well recognised within Gujarat where he has been working in high level positions. As a member of high level state and national committees he has been able to guide and influence policies,” Rao said.

“His work stands out in terms of real world impact. He made bold moves to advance district mental health facilities — advancing the district mental health programme, improving the accessibility to mental health support etc,” Rao added.

‘Desiraju was a very rare person’

Apart from the Mental Healthcare Bill, Desiraju also led the establishment of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI), an expert group that currently takes all the key decisions around Covid vaccination in India.

“I remember Desiraju. I would like to say that I had the opportunity to work with him and spend time with such a great person. I admired him for his patience for developing mental health sectors in the country and I would try to follow him in developing mental health advances in my state,” Chauhan said, while accepting the award.

In the virtual award ceremony, Gopalkrishna Devdas Gandhi, a former diplomat who served as the governor of West Bengal from 2004 to 2009, paid an emotional tribute to Desiraju.

“Desiraju was a very rare person…A scholar if there ever was one. He confounded intellectuals, freethinkers, dissidents, activists, bohemians by choosing the much travelled by road — the Indian Administrative Service. He knew he could read as much as he wanted to, and also do his ‘sarkari’ work,” Gandhi said.

Desiraju’s sister, Srilata Iyer, was also present at the ceremony.

“His education formed the basis of his understanding of inequality, a subject reflected in the work he went on to conduct in the civil services — working for the underprivileged in Almorah, recognising mental health, and not just physical health, as an issue to tackle in India,” she said.

Also read: Why do teenagers fighting emotional distress engage in self-harm? This study answers


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