A prominent Maharashtra legal luminary on Thursday petitioned the Centre to declare the Remdesivir medicine – currently in huge demand owing to the Covid-19 pandemic – as a ‘life-saving’ medicine with controlled pricing to prevent blackmarketing and corruption.
Remdesivir is manufactured by a handful of companies under brand names like Cipremi (Cipla), Covifar (Hetero), Desrem (Mylon), Remdac (Zydus), Redyx (Dr. Reddy’s).
In a plea to the Central Government which controls the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), a statutory authority under the Drugs Price Control Order (DPCO), Mumbai Barrister Vinod Tiwari has demanded a high-level investigation into the artificial scarcity, hoarding, blackmarketing and misuse of the drug which could run into a racket of over Rs 25,000-crore under the nose of the NPPA, in the past ten months since the drug was launched after the pandemic was declared.
Despite efforts by certain states like Maharashtra to bring Remdesivir under the ambit of DPCO, he accused the NPPA of ignoring the grave situation which led to massive irregularities and corruption, besides desperation among Covid-19 patients across India.
Tiwari pointed out that under the DPCO, 1995, amended in 2013, issued under the Essential Commodities Act, the Centre is empowered to include any item of medical importance, like Remdesivir currently, within the DPCO list to control its manufacture, stocking, distribution, sale, etc. and make it easily available at a reasonable price to the patients.
“It was the duty of the NPPA under DPCO to follow its statutory functions and responsibilities by taking immediate steps to bring Remdesivir under the DPCO regime soon after the biggest pandemic afflicting mankind was witnessed last year. Why did it wait for so long? Who’s responsible and what were the ulterior motives behind the delays?” Tiwari told IANS.
Citing various documents and RTI replies, Tiwari said the NPPA took no initiative to bring Remdesivir under the DPCO regime and in the process crores of patients and people were looted of more than Rs 25,000 crore.
“The country is witnessing a tsunami-like second wave of Covid-19 but the NPPA has failed to rein in the prices of Remdesivir and the needy patients are left at the sheer mercy of the pharma companies and the medical mafia since over 13 months now,” rued Tiwari.
Addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the petition copies have been sent to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Union Ministers D. V. Sadananda Gowda, Harsh Vardhan and Mansukh Mandaviya, besides the NPPA and the Central Chief Vigilance Commissioner for an immediate hearing and reply.
Justifying his contentions, he pointed out that Cipremi is sold for Rs 4000 though it is given to the distributor for barely Rs 1,080+GST, Covifar is sold at Rs 5,400 by the stockist who gets it for Rs 935+GST.
Ditto is the case with Desrem bought for Rs 935+GST but sold at Rs 4,800, Redyx bought for Rs 900+GST but sold to the patient at Rs 5,400, he pointed out.
“Each patient needs 6 doses (injections) of Remdesivir. In the past ten months or so, the country has witnessed crores of cases. It must be probed how many injections were actually sold and how much the pharma companies, the medical mafia and the officialdom earned ‘blood money’ from it,” Tiwari said.
He said it was “short-sightedness” on the part of the Centre and the powerful NPPA that when the pharma companies were given the advantage of compulsory export obligations, they could have easily offset the costs domestically and Remdesivir could have been provided either free of cost or at a nominal price to Indian patients, but this was deliberately not done.
“The Maharashtra government had raised this matter officially with the Centre in Feb-March 2021. However, despite the gravity and urgency of the situation, the state’s plea was not heeded and the open market dacoity in the name of Remdesivir continues daily,” Tiwari said.
He has prayed that the Centre through NPPA take top priority steps to include Remdesivir in the DPCO list by the weekend. The Centre should order the Central CVC, the CBI or ED to conduct a nationwide probe to expose the unholy nexus between the pharma companies, medical mafias and the government officials who must be prosecuted, punished and dismissed as per the provisions of the NDMA and EDA.