New Delhi: India’s drug prices regulator plans to set up citizen grievance centres across the country in its first initiative to reach out to consumers directly to bolster price monitoring efforts and help in identifying drug price violations.
The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, or NPPA, will establish 470 such consumer information facilitation and grievance centres, kicking off the plan in large Indian cities and the north-eastern states, where any consumer can file a complaint for overcharging or unavailability of a drug by paying a small fee.
If the trial initiative succeeds, more centres will be created under the programme to map every state more closely, said a senior government official close to the development.
“Talks are under way with the state governments to set up five centres from scratch in Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Patna, Chennai and Mumbai on a pilot basis,” said the same official. This is in addition to five Internet-enabled information facilitation centres, open to the public, at various ministry offices in Delhi.
The remaining — and the largest chunk of — grievance centres will be based out of so-called community information centres in the north-eastern states.
The pharmaceutical industry cautiously welcomed the plan. “This is a good move as it will help the consumers. It is very innovative,” said Daara Patel, secretary general of a lobby of smaller Indian drug makers, Indian Drug Manufacturers' Association. But, he added, “I just hope it causes no unnecessary harassment to drug companies.”
Drug makers have repeatedly complained of what they call overregulation in an industry that they believe will best serve consumer interests if allowed to compete freely.
The authority, however, says pricing rules are increasingly being violated.
Last fiscal year, the regulator received consumer complaints on 479 medicine packs that have one or more ingredients under price control and found prima facie violations in 460 cases.
That figure has already jumped more than five times to 2,656 medicine packs in the current fiscal year, of which 2,585 saw violations such as overcharging by drug makers.
“Consumers seem to have a very high strike rate in flagging off violations and we want to tap this resource,” said the official. The online complaint system, with kiosks spread out in the country, will generate more “actionable” complaints by rejecting the ones with incomplete information, he added on the condition of anonymity.
The government’s National Informatics Centre will provide the software support and broadband connectivity to the grievance centres. Collaborating with state-level functionaries and employment of existing infrastructure will help the authority limit spending to those centres being set up from scratch. The regulator will finance this scheme from the Rs5 crore funds it has for information technology-related expenses this year.
NPPA, which fixes price caps on all medicines made out of 74 basic ingredients called bulk drugs, has increased its monitoring of local drug pricing rules in recent months. It has fixed the prices of 24 new drugs on public interest grounds and created an enforcement directorate to track the Rs33,000 crore domestic drug segment more closely.
The proposed new pharmaceutical policy could give the regulator more powers by setting up state-level cells for intensive market surveillance.