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NITI Aayog official appointed PM’s healthcare programme director

The 41-year-old Dinesh Arora, who had been working on the programme for more than a month before it was announced in the budget speech by finance minister Arun Jaitley on February 1

india Updated: Feb 15, 2018 07:39 IST
Jatin Gandhi and Utpal Bhaskar
Dinesh Arora moved to Niti Aayog in July.
Dinesh Arora moved to Niti Aayog in July. (HT File Photo)

Dinesh Arora, director (health) at federal policy think tank Niti Aayog, was on Tuesday appointed director of the prime minister’s flagship healthcare programme, Ayushman Bharat, in the health ministry, people familiar with the matter said.

A government official involved with the project described Arora’s appointment as “the formalisation of a working arrangement” ahead of two-day consultations involving nearly 150 officials from the states and the Centre that will give a final shape to the National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) – which envisages a Rs 5 lakh floating cover for nearly 100 million families or 500 million citizens.

The 41-year-old Arora, who had been working on the programme for more than a month before it was announced in the budget speech by finance minister Arun Jaitley on February 1, is a qualified doctor and has worked in public health in the past, heading the National Rural Health Mission in Kerala from May 2006 to September 2009. He moved to Niti Aayog in July.

Asked about lessons from his Kerala days spent in public health, which can be applied to the NHPS, Arora said, “Insurance became the fulcrum for health reforms in the state. The public health sector started earning money from the insurance cover, which was then used to upgrade the government run health centres and hospitals.”

The NHPS will require close coordination between the health ministry and the federal policy body, which will coordinate with states. Kerala was adjudged the best state in the country on health indicators in a national ranking index released by the Centre and World Bank last Friday.

Arora began his career as a sub-collector in Ottappalam (Palakkad district) where he took on the powerful sand mafia exploiting Kerala’s largest river Bharatapuzha, his former colleague in Kerala recalled. During his tenure in NRHM, he took special initiatives to achieve health for all tapping telemedicine and FM radio programmes to reach people staying in remote and inaccessible areas, the official said.

Described as a “go-getter” by at least two officers who worked with him, Arora earned his spurs by expediting India’s rural electrification drive during his stint as executive director at state-run Rural Electrification Corporation. Industry experts and former colleagues credit him with the work done under the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), which is now being leveraged for the marquee Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya) to provide electricity connections to over 40 million families in rural and urban areas by December 2018.

Arora’s former colleagues and industry veterans describe him as the ‘anchor’ for India’s quest for reducing energy poverty.

“He was always pushing to get results and is a good team leader,” said a former colleague at the state-run firm, requesting anonymity, while crediting him with the scheme’s performance.

The efforts have borne results. According to the National Democratic Alliance government’s 2015 plan, 18,452 un-electrified villages will be electrified by May 1, 2018. Of these, 16,341 villages have been electrified, helping 99.8% or 5,96,465 of the country’s census villages get electricity access.

“His clarity, focus, and commitment ensured the rural village electrification programme achieved the aggressive targets with appropriate monitoring, verification and transparency through the usage of latest IT tools and apps,” said Sambitosh Mohapatra, partner, power and utilities, PwC India.

Union health ministry’s additional secretary, Manoj Jhalani, has been appointed mission director of the project. Both Arora and Jhalani in different capacities have been involved in government’s flagship programme — National Health Mission (NHM) — which has several key health initiatives under it, including Mission Indradhanush.

“He believes in delivering and at times he’s unmindful of consequences,” said Viswas Mehta, Kerala additional chief secretary and residential commissioner in Delhi.

(With inputs from Ramesh Babu in Thiruvananthapuram)