A Bitter Pill
Written by INDIA INSIGHT   
Wednesday, 04 June 2008

The fake drugs industry is thriving, says Harinder S Sikka, who believes one in four drugs available in the market is spurious or sub-standard

If there is one business that has grown and thrived in the past 60 years since Independence, it is the fake drugs industry. So rampant is the menace in our country today that it is suspected that one in every four drugs in the market is either spurious or sub-standard. The wholesale markets in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh etc. are known to be flooded with drugs manufactured by companies that are legal on paper. But that's exactly where the legality ends. Of the thousands of registered and unregistered drug companies, how many are actually following the Schedule 'M', the new stricter norms for drugs manufacturing, is but a wild guess. Helping their business to thrive further are the lax regulations and laws. If a man kills another, he can be tried in the court and punished. But if a company produces fake drugs and kills or injures hundreds there are not enough provisions in our country to cause a serious setback to the offender. The law of the land provides the offender with bail for the asking. 

The unknown tragedy of Kargil It was at Kargil during the war in 1999 that I first saw the far-reaching consequences of counterfeits and fakes. Our wounded soldiers, injured while engaging Pakistani infiltrators, were, shockingly, also suffering because of the enemy within as a result of consuming sub-standard drugs manufactured by fly-by-night operators. The existing drug procurement norms are such that anyone offering the lowest price gets the supply order. Whether the lowest cost drugs also adhere to top most quality is another matter altogether. Since then, I have been running a national level campaign against the fake drugs mafia with the help of electronic and print media. Sadly, the campaign has not met with much success. My Public Interest Litigation (PIL), demanding new and stricter laws to be implemented post haste as were recommended by the Mashelkar Committee, has been admitted in the Delhi High Court. Nearly half a decade has passed since those recommendations were made, but the new laws are nowhere on the horizon.


What is even worse is the poor regulatory system prevailing in our country. There is just about one inspector for every 500 chemists in the metropolitan cities. Compounding these woes is the fact that only seven out of nearly two dozen Government Drugs Testing Laboratories are functional. In other words, the system in existence is actually facilitating the fake drugs manufacturers to fill their coffers. It's a win-win situation for all, except, of course, the patients.


Blowing the whistle on fakes unfortunately, this is not where the story ends. India has also earned a bad reputation for exporting fakes. Consequently, the United States has put India under the 301 Watch list, a stigma we can well do without. While on one hand the genuine and organised Indian drug industry is making its mark overseas for producing the highest quality drugs at the cheapest cost, it is also facing flak from those nations who find India an easy target in the fakes arena. The solution to this serious issue is easily achievable provided the Government is willing to get its act together. Stricter laws together with a 'Whistle Blower' policy can nearly cripple the fake drugs industry. The pharma industry has also volunteered to help the government to differentiate genuine drugs from the fake ones. Besides, if Schedule 'M' is implemented strictly by the government, the fake ones will have no other option but to shut down. The moot question that remains is, "Who will bell the cat and when?" The government of the day could be serious in tackling the issue but it is not serious enough to take the problem head on. With the next general elections around the corner, the dice is set to roll yet again to the advantage of the fake drugs mafia. The patients will suffer more and so will be India's reputation in the global arena. But, then, who cares?


Image Mr Harinder S Sikka is

the President of the

Pharma-major Nicholas Piramal

Group, and an avid golfer





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