It has now been nearly four years since the Delhi High Court, acting on a public interest litigation, ordered the Union government to take action against fake drugs.
It has also been 18 months since a parliamentary standing committee on health and family welfare made its recommendations on the Drugs and Cosmetics (Amendment) Bill, 2005, which sought to punish spurious drug makers and vendors with sentences of up to life imprisonment.
So what has happened to the Bill? Nobody seems to know for sure.
Union minister for health and family welfare Anbumani Ramadoss hasn’t responded to repeated requests for an interview over the past 10 days. The department’s secretary, Naresh Dayal, passed a query to the joint secretary, Debashish Panda, who couldn’t be reached for comment. Drugs controller general M. Venkateswarlu’s office promised to respond to a written query but didn’t.
And what about members of that standing committee of parliamentarians?
Mint approached at least six members of the standing committee’s 31 original members (two seats have since fallen vacant), but not one of them could even recall, without prompting, the Bill—let alone comment on its fate thereafter. These included the Samajwadi Party’s Rajendra Kumar Badi, the Congress’ Chinta Mohan, Karan Singh Yadav and K. Rani, Pattali Makkal Katchi’s Raman Senthil and Bharatiya Janata Party’s Maneka Gandhi. A few of them said they would get back to the reporter, but didn’t.
The inaction—which was highlighed by Mint as part of its stories on the easy availability of fake drugs, just a few kilometres from Parliament at the Capital’s Bhagirath Place—comes even after a second public interest litigation by Nicholas Piramal’s Harinder S. Sikka in his private capacity has been filed against the government seeking an update on the Bill.
The first time around, the government formed a committee on the drug regulatory system, under the chairmanship of R.A. Mashelkar, former director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, which submitted its report in late 2003.
The Drugs and Cosmetics (Amendment) Bill, 2003, however, lapsed in Lok Sabha on 6 February 2004.
A new Bill was introduced by the current UPA government in the Rajya Sabha on 10 May 2005. This Bill was promptly referred to the standing committee. The committee, in its report submitted on 21 December 2005, largely endorsed the proposed amendment. And that is the last anyone has heard of the Bill.
(Bhuma Shrivastava contributed to this story.)