The right prescription
Written by Business Standard   
Wednesday, 11 January 2006


The right prescription

Harinder S Sikka
New Delhi January 11, 2006

Baba Ramdev’s aggressive selling of ayurveda, both as a way of life (yoga) and as medicines, has made the kings of junk foods (read MNCs) scamper for cover. His drugs do not contain miracles. However, by offering simple solutions to complicated healthcare problems, he has touched the masses. 


Using the media, the Baba has rekindled the hopes of millions who watch him perform simple-looking asanas that promise to ease them of their agony. However, in his over-zealousness to do too many things, the Baba allegedly made the cardinal mistake of not following the law of the land on labour and labelling issues.

Ayurveda is a centuries-old time-tested science that got lost during the British Raj in favour of allopathy. Voluminous Sanskrit scriptures containing secrets to the vast herbal world were either lost or pirated overseas. The home-grown science also suffered extensively at the hands of the charlatans who exploited it for making a quick buck as well as the government for its neglect and apathy. 

Brinda Karat’s concerns, therefore, could not have come at a better time. There is neither any shortage of jhola-toting Swamis proclaiming themselves to be experts on ayurveda, nor a dearth of fake drugs. As if it was not serious enough for an allopathic Schedule “H” drug to be available over the counter, we now have ayurveda, homeopathy, siddha and unani drugs being aggressively advertised for their miraculous healing powers. There are at least 20 herbal fairness creams jostling for the Rs 200-crore market alone. And in the absence of any benchmarks for safety, toxicity and efficacy studies, it is a free-for-all. The ultimate sufferer is the patient. But so long as he is willing to bite the bait, no one seems to care. 

There is no denying the fact that animal extracts play a vital role in the drug delivery system. While the anti-snake and anti-rabies drugs play a life-saving role, the use of metals such as gold, silver, lead, mercury, arsenic, tin, copper as well as shells, corals and pearls needs to be scientifically evaluated. Almost all the bhasmas contain animal extracts. For instance, srungi bhasma (antelope’s horns), hastidantamasi (ivory), yakrit pippali (goat lever), gorochana adivati (ox extract) are available over the counter even when their ingredients belong to the animals from the endangered species category. Ironically, the Forests Department auctions deer horns regularly even today. Needless to say the poaching business is thriving given the demand and supply imbalance. 

One hopes that the whole debate on this issue would shake up the government machinery from its deep slumber and one would see stricter laws emerging. There should be no reservation in controlling quality, batch-to-batch consistency and labelling. DNA finger printing will further help in patenting newer research as well as preserve our traditional knowledge from piracy. Like in allopathic drugs, ayurveda, unani and so on, too, must fall under the GMP umbrella.

If the Indian science has to leap frog to the 21st century, it is vital for the government to marry ayurvedic science with the modern systems of benchmarking using pharmacopoeia. Now that the developed world has accepted naturopathy as a major source of treatment, it will go a long way for our traditional knowledge if the state is able to get its act together. As for the CPI (M), this is one debate that the party should be proud of. 

The writer is Co-Chairman, ASSOCHAM Pharma Committee

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