Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Dec 20, 2003
Industry & Economy - Pharmaceuticals
Marketing - Standards & Benchmarks
Will death penalty deter fake drug makers?
P.T. Jyothi Datta
New Delhi , Dec 19
WOULD the death penalty for manufacturers of spurious drugs actually work as an effective deterrent or will the issue simply fritter away, since it would be difficult for regulatory, pharma industry and legal representatives to establish intent or association between fake drugs and the death of a consumer?
Only on Thursday , the Union Cabinet gave its green signal to capital punishment for spurious drug manufacturers. In the past, the Union Health Minister, Ms Sushma Swaraj, has been relentless in pursuing death penalty for players in the spurious drug trade.
However, voices in the industry fear that serious efforts to nip the fake drug trade could get mired in the absence of substantial evidence. "The Government should be seen as taking quick and stringent action against spurious drug manufacturers and this could be done through raising the penalty levels and expediting the processing time. But bringing in the death penalty could result in the case getting lost in the labyrinthine corridors of the legal jurisdiction," a pharma industry representative told Business Line.
Mr Julio Ribeiro, former Director General of Police, said that efforts should be focussed on implementing the existing laws and expediting the trials.
"That is a big ask. There is no empirical data on how death penalty can put a curb on any illegal trade. The important thing is to ensure that laws are stringent and implemented." Mr Ribeiro was part of the pharma industry's committee on spurious drugs.
"It is indeed like a perfect murder, where the evidence is gone and it is difficult to establish whether the person has died of the drug or the disease. Stringent action needs to be taken in a graded manner, with the harshest punishment for the established case. Death penalty is an effective deterrent," points out Mr Ranjit Shahani, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director, Novartis India Ltd.
The Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance's Secretary General, Mr D.G. Shah, observes: "The offences need to be clearly defined so that genuine manufacturers do not get harassed in the process."
Mr Harinder Sikka, President of Nicholas Piramal India Ltd, however, feels that the Government is capable of putting in place systems to effect speedy trials of cases related to the spurious trade.
"Once the Government activates this delivery mechanism, it will protect the interest of consumers, besides enhancing the country's image in global markets. Multinationals will not be able to use this as an excuse not to outsource from India," he said.
The call for death penalty was the line taken by the expert committee looking into the issue, under the chairmanship of Dr R.A. Mashelkar, Director General, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. The committee's final report defines spurious and counterfeit drugs, however, it stops short of quantifying its incidence. It has instead initiated a process to ascertain the prevalence of the fake drug trade. Industry estimates put the revenue loss due to spurious drugs at about Rs 4,000 crore.
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