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Back as Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan has Mission Ayushman Bharat Ahead of Him

The only BJP MP from Delhi to get a representation in the Narendra Modi-led second NDA government, Harsh Vardhan is also a key face for the party ahead of the Assembly election in the capital next year.


Updated:May 31, 2019, 4:41 PM IST
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Back as Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan has Mission Ayushman Bharat Ahead of Him
File photo of UnionHealth Minister Harsh Vardhan.

New Delhi: Back in the Union Cabinet, Harsh Vardhan has returned in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second government as the minister of health, a portfolio that he had been divested off in November 2014, after being allocated the department in May.

An ENT specialist, Vardhan is back in the department that he has extensive domain knowledge and officials who worked with him describe as “one that he has a keen interest in”.

The only Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Delhi to get a representation in the Modi-led second NDA government, Vardhan is also a key face for the party ahead of the Assembly election in the capital next year.

Asked what the minister’s emphasis was likely to be, an official in the ministry said, “There are many things that have to be looked at. However, nothing is of more importance than Ayushman Bharat and its implementation."

Health, BJP leaders said, would be a key factor in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) versus BJP battle.

On the one hand, the AAP has been touting its model of decentralised health services in the form of mohalla clinics as a key development. On the other hand, the BJP is keen to increase the scope, breadth and influence of the Ayushman Bharat scheme in India.

Delhi remains one of the states that has, so far, resisted plans to implement the scheme.

He was appointed the minister of health and family welfare during the Modi government’s first stint in 2014 and later, given the charge of the ministries of earth sciences and Science and technology.

In May 2017, he was given the additional charge of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change following the death of Union minister Anil Madhav Dave.

The 64-year-old was re-elected to the Lok Sabha from Chandi Chowk, by a winning margin of over two lakh votes.

As the environment minister, he had initiated the Green Good Deeds Movement in 2018, in which he appealed to people to take small, positive steps to protect the environment. He also oversaw the National Clean Air Programme, a bid to reduce particulate matter pollution by 2024.

As the science minister, though, Vardhan drew flak for a series of comments that critics dubbed as "unscientific".

For instance, in the Indian Science Congress held at Manipur in 2018, he had claimed that cosmologist Stephen Hawking had said the Vedas had a theory that was superior to Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

As a health minister in Delhi from 1993-1998, he had undertaken a polio prevention programme that was replicated across the country, following which he was awarded the Director-General’s Polio

Eradication Champion Award Commendation Medal by the World Health Organisation in 1998.

He was also behind the battle against drug and tobacco abuse and enacted the Delhi Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places and Non-Smokers Health Protection Act.

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