The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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SC term for free drug price

New Delhi, Aug. 1: The Supreme Court has withheld permission to free more drugs of price control until the government includes all life-saving drugs in the essential medicines list.

In the new Drug Price Control Order framed under the Pharmaceutical Policy, 2002, the Centre proposes to reduce the number of medicines on the control list from 68 to around 30, increasing the number of medicines on which no maximum selling price has been set.

But a division bench of Chief Justice V.. Khare and Justice S.B. Sinha today said the court would not grant permission to implement the new price control order until the condition is met.

“India is a welfare state. You should see to the welfare of all the people and not that of the rich only. Life-saving drugs should be included. We will monitor the case till it is done,” the court said.

The government had told the court in an earlier hearing that 75 new drugs were included in the essential medicines list. But today, it came to light that many drugs for typhoid, hepatitis A and B and medicines for cardiac problems had not been included.

“We were given to understand by the attorney-general that apart from the existing medicines, many more would be added to the essential drugs list. If proper steps are not taken by the government, we will pass a judicial order,” the bench said.

The apex court gave four weeks to the Centre to file an affidavit giving details of the essential medicines list and the criteria it adopts for putting a drug on the list. The court order came against the backdrop of complaints that the definition of “life-saving” is open to interpretation.

The Centre had appealed to the Supreme Court after Karnataka High Court stayed the implementation of the price control order, with a directive to include life-saving drugs in the essential list.

K.S. Gopinath, along with some NGOs, filed a public interest litigation in the high court alleging that life-saving drugs would no longer come under the new order. This would allow drug manufacturers to fix prices for all medicines, the petition said. The prices might be increased manifold because of the manufacturers’ “profit-making intention”, thereby causing poor patients hardship, it alleged.

The Indian Drug Manufacturers Association, an umbrella organisation of most major drug manufacturers, today impleaded themselves as parties in the case. They want the Centre to immediately implement the price control order.

The division bench today objected to the way in which the inclusion of medicines on the essential list had been linked with the turnover of the manufacturer. “If the price goes up and the turnover increases, will the medicine go out of the list'” the judges asked additional solicitor-general Raju Ramachandran, who was appearing for the Centre.

Senior advocate C.A. Sundaram, appearing for Gopinath, said the drug makers had a vested interest in the immediate implementation of the price control order since they would be able to take a medicine off the essential list on the basis of their turnover and later increase its price.

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