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Gireesh Babu, New Delhi August 16 , 2022
The Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee (DRPSC) on chemicals and fertilisers has recommended the government to exempt the basic customs duty and Goods and Services Tax (GST) on medicines and medical devices to fight Covid-19 till the pandemic is over.

The Committee also came down heavily on the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) for not furnishing proper data related to number of cases of overpricing of medicines/medical devices, black-marketing/hoarding of essential drugs and sought the Department to take urgent steps to spread awareness among people about the grievance redressal mechanism.

In a latest report on the action taken by the government on its earlier recommendations on availability of medicines and medical devices for Covid management of the Department of Pharmaceuticals, under the ministry of chemicals and fertilisers, the Committee headed by Member of Parliament Kanimozhi Karunanidhi noted that the items like face mask and surgical mask, PPE, Covid-19 testing kit etc., mentioning full exemption from Basic Customs Duty and Table B showing exemption/reduction in GST/IGST on import of Covid-19 relief goods have surpassed their validity in 2021 itself.

However, the Committee had recommended the Department to explore the possibility of providing these exemptions till the pandemic is over.

“The Committee feel that these exemptions should have continued till the pandemic is over. The Committee, therefore strongly reiterates its recommendation on exemption of Basic Customs Duty and GST on medicines and medical devices for fighting Covid-19 till the pandemic is over,” it recommended in the report submitted in the Lok Sabha on August 8, 2022.

Commenting on the actions taken by the Department against hoarding/black marketing/over pricing of medicines and medical devices related to Covid-19, the Committee noted that the Ministry has informed about a number of measures initiated by National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) on cases of overpricing of medicines and medical devices as per the provision of Drugs (Price Control) Order (DPCO), 2013. NPPA has also requested Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) to take strict measures for prevention of black-marketing and hoarding of essential drugs. Further all the State Drug Controllers have also been requested to closely monitor the production and availability of Covid-19 drugs; to prevent black-marketing & hoarding; and ensure availability of life saving essential drugs.

“However the Committee are surprised to note that the number of cases of overpricing of medicines/medical devices, black-marketing/hoarding of essential drugs has not been furnished. In view of the Committee after an analysis of figures of cases of overpricing of medicines/medical devices, black/marketing etc. reported during the last two to three years the efficacy of these measures can be judged,” it said.

Apart from this the details of not even a single complaint of remdesivir injection has been furnished to the committee, although according to the department the ministry of health and family welfare had lodged a complaint to department of pharmaceuticals regarding shortage of remdesivir injection in certain areas of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

“The Committee recommend that a detailed report about such complaints and their disposal be immediately furnished for their consideration,” it added. It has also note with concern that the reply of the Ministry is silent on the steps taken to increase awareness among the people about the complaint/grievance redressal mechanism available to them so that they can report matters related to overpricing/hoarding/black marketing as recommended by the Committee.

“The Committee strongly reiterates its recommendation and recommend that NPPA and CDSCO (Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation) should take urgent steps in this regard,” said the Committee report.

The DoP has informed the Committee regarding various regulatory actions were taken by CDSCO against hoarding/black marketing/over pricing of medicines and medical devices related to Covid-19. Based on the complaint received from MoH&FW, regarding shortage of remdesivir injection in certain areas in Madhya Pradesh (Bhopal, Indore, Gwalior), Gujarat (Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot) and Maharashtra (Mumbai, Thane, Ambernath). CDSCO wrote to all State/UT Drugs Controllers requesting to initiate immediate remedial action to ensure supply of remdesivir injection to public and private hospitals and also to instruct their enforcement officials to keep continuous monitoring on the situation and keep strict vigil on the matter, it said.

DoP in its reply to the Committee said that with reports on black marketing/hoarding of COVID related drugs, CDSCO has requested all State/UT Drugs Controllers to instruct their enforcement staff to keep strict vigil on the matter especially at sensitive places and to take stringent action against hoarding/black marketing/overcharging of drugs by conducting special drive of monitoring and investigation, so that any such incident of drugs is prevented. CDSCO carried out a weekly availability survey of 17 drugs/devices/items near Covid designated hospitals and general chemist shops. Its frequency was increased to twice a week when required, informed the DoP.

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