The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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VAT shuts chemists on Health Day

World Health Day in Calcutta: closed pharmacies, an acute crisis of essential drugs, hardship for patients and allegations of medicines being sold at a premium. The Bengal Chemists and Druggists Association went on a one-day token strike in the city and across Bengal on Monday.

All pharmacies, barring select outlets located near hospitals, were closed to protest the implementation of VAT.

Association representatives said on Monday that they were disturbed by reports of medicines, including life-saving drugs, being sold at a premium in some areas, especially pockets in east and central Calcutta.

Organising secretary of the association Biplab Roy Choudhury admitted:“We have heard of these transactions. We condemn the sale of medicines in the black market and we are looking into the allegations.”

Association officials expressed concern over the disappearance of essential drugs from several shops, as distributors, anticipating VAT implementation, had lifted small stocks of medicines that had been exhausted.

Most stockists were waiting for the crisis to blow over before a fresh round of stock-taking, but with no one having any idea when VAT will be implemented, the problem has compounded. The retail outlets are the worst affected, especially those in the districts. They have been turning away customers because of a shortage of drugs.

“We are helpless, as the strike was absolutely necessary to register our protest. It was a total success and more than 46,000 shops in the city and the districts were closed. It is the question of our survival,” an association spokesman added.

Monday’s was the second strike by the association — it observed one last month — against the implementation of VAT. The traders are scheduled to meet again in a few days’ time to discuss their next course of action, which will include a bigger agitation to thwart attempts by the government to implement VAT.

“If they go ahead with the levy, at least 15,000 shops in and around the city will shut down for good. This will only add to the hardships of the common people and will not augur well for anybody,” Roy Choudhury added.

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