By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, May 12 (IANS) Nearly a month after a Maharashtra activist alleged a massive scam in the supplies and availability of key anti-viral drug Remdesivir injections, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner has finally ordered a probe.
Taking cognizance of a petition by Barrister Vinod Tiwari, the CVC has ordered the Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO) of Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilisers to investigate the issue in detail.
In a communication to Tiwari dated May 11, the CVC has said that “the complaint has been duly examined by the Commission and having regards to the nature of the issues raised therein”, it has been sent to the CVO of the ministry for a probe.
The development comes nearly a month after Tiwari’s plea to the Centre on April 13 alleging a rampant corruption scam involving many people and the pharmaceutical sector to sell Remdesivir at exorbitant prices by creating an “artificial scarcity” in the past few months, as first highlighted by IANS (April 16-17).
In his petition to the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), a statutory authority under the Drugs Price Control Order (DPCO), Tiwari had demanded a high-level probe into the “artificial scarcity, hoarding, blackmarketing and misuse of the drug which could run into a racket of over Rs 25,000 crore under the nose of the NPPA,” in the past ten months since the drug was launched after the pandemic was declared.
“Lakhs of Covid-19 patients had been systematically fleeced as the Centre failed to bring Remdesivir under the DPCO – the motives for which are not clear – and subsequent data indicates the scam could be over Rs 1 lakh crore – bigger than the 2G, Coal-gate or other similar scandals – and all those who exploited the people in this pandemic must be booked criminally,” Tiwari contended.
Incidentally, rattled by the plea, the Centre post-haste brought the drug under the DPCO and slashed the MRP of Remdesivir by around 60 per cent on April 17, though Tiwari feels it can be reduced even further since the pharma companies and other officials “have already profited massively from the tragedy of the Covid patients and their families”.
Incidentally, Maharashtra was the first state to make efforts to bring Remdesivir under the ambit of the DPCO, but its efforts were allegedly stonewalled by the Centre and others.
Tiwari has questioned why the NPPA shirked its statutory responsibility to bring Remdesivir under the DPCO regime, since, as per the DPCO Act, 1995, issued under the Essential Commodities Act, the Centre is empowered to include any item of medical importance, like Remdesivir currently, within the DPCO list to control its manufacture, stocking, distribution, sale, etc and make it easily available at a reasonable price to the patients.
“The Covid pandemic is the biggest afflicting mankind since 2020. Why did NPPA wait for so long? Who’s responsible and what were the ulterior motives behind the delays?” demanded Tiwari and said that the CVO probe would unravel the truth and the conspiracy.
The petition was sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Union Ministers D.V. Sadananda Gowda, Harsh Vardhan, and Mansukh Mandaviya, the Central Vigilance Commission and departments concerned, seeking a hearing.
The CVC was the first to take note of the plea by seeking more details, even as the country reeled under a shortage of Remdesivir with the “medical mafia” playing havoc with patients who need six doses (injections) for Covid-19 treatment.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Quaid Najmi