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Top court poser on drugs tender to pharma firm

- Centre & Tripura govt asked to reply on plea seeking CBI probe into deal

New Delhi, March 3: The Supreme Court today sought a response from New Delhi and the Tripura government on a PIL filed to seek a CBI probe into the alleged illegal allotment of tenders to a Himachal Pradesh-based pharmaceuticals company, and supply of “sub-standard” drugs.

A bench headed by Justice A.K. Patnaik also issued a notice to the Himachal Pradesh government and the private company, on the petition filed by Congress spokesperson Ashok Kumar Sinha.

Sinha alleged that the state and the police machinery had failed to take any action against the officials and the company.

According to the petition filed through counsel Chanchal Kumar Ganguli, the state’s health and family welfare department imported nearly 50 drugs, formulations and injections from M/s Vardhaman Pharma in March 2012, despite the fact that the company did not have a valid drug licence, as required under the rules.

The company’s licence was, in fact, cancelled in 2009, yet the government went ahead with procuring the medicines.

During random checks between July 2013 and September 2013, several drugs supplied by the company were found to be sub-standard.

The authorities lodged an FIR with Agartala police station on November 4 last year only after much public outcry, the petition said.

The petitioner claimed that as the police were not taking any action against the company or the government authorities, he himself lodged a complaint with the police on November 16, 2013.

Even then, no action was taken, the petition said.

It alleged that the state government was adamant in protecting health minister Tapan Chakraborty and IAS officers V. Satyanarayan and J.K. Sinha in spite of their alleged gross negligence.

Hence, the CBI alone can bring out the truth in the matter, it said.

Though the petitioner claimed that a large number of people had died because of the substandard drugs, it did not specify the number of deaths and the period during which it occurred.

Fifteen members of the state secretariat, including Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar and five of his cabinet colleagues, met in Agartala today regarding the petition.

The state CPM spokesperson and editor of the Daily Desher Katha, Gautam Das, said the Supreme Court order could not be commented upon.

“The apex court has decided to issue a notice and the government will furnish a reply. We cannot comment at this stage on the apex court’s order,” said Das.

Similarly, the director of health services, Satya Ranjan Debbarma, said the health department was yet to receive the notice.

“Normally, we cannot comment on the wisdom of courts and their orders and in this case we have not even received the notice. So I cannot comment on the issue,” said Debbarma.

However, PCC spokesperson Ashok Kumar Sinha, who had filed the PIL seeking a CBI investigation, described the medicine supply scam as the “scam of the millennium”.

He expressed hope that a CBI investigation will be ordered ultimately.

The leader of the Opposition, Sudip Roy Barman, said the “dubious” Vardhaman Pharma based in Himachal Pradesh had been supplying substandard medicine and drugs to the state health department since 2011.

“Their licence for manufacturing medicine had expired in 2009 itself but they grabbed the supply order by dubious means with fake papers. There was no check on the quality of the medicine supplied and it continued even after the drug control department had stated on file that the quality of medicine was not up to the mark on January 22, 2013,” said Roy Barman.

He said it was only after April 5 last year when the regional drug-testing laboratory in Guwahati had said on record that medicine and drugs supplied by Vardhaman Pharma were substandard that the state government woke up to the issue.

“Despite the hue and cry that we had raised in the state Assembly and outside, the supply order was cancelled much later in September last year, allowing the entire stock of substandard medicine to be consumed by people,” said the leader.

He said after protests, the state government filed a “feeble FIR” on November 4 last year against the supply “but the FIR was so weak that it was bound to be quashed in a court of law”.

The leader of the Opposition said Sinha had filed an FIR against the state government on November 16 last year and then followed this up by filing a PIL in the Supreme Court.

“This is the first time a PIL from Tripura against the state government has been filed in the Supreme Court and the apex court decided to issue a notice after being prima facie satisfied. We will pursue the matter,” he added.


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