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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 16, April 6, 2013

SC Verdict, BJP’s Lokayukta, Mamata-speak


Friday 12 April 2013, by SC

The Supreme Court’s judgment on Glivec has been hailed by countless poor cancer patients not just in India but the developing world as a whole. This particular drug, used for treating leukaemia, costs a huge sum—$ 1900 (Rs 1,04,500) a month whereas the generic drug produced in India comes to around $ 175 (Rs 9625) a month. The Apex Court’s rejection of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis’ patent application for Glivec means it would no longer be able to charge eleven times more than the generic drug produced by Indian drug companies.

If Novartis was able to wrest the patent right through a diammetrically opposite rulling by the Supreme Court, that would have sounded the death-knell for the manufacture of the generic drug.

Novartis is the Number Two drug and pharma-ceutical manufacturing company in the world. In 2010 its annual turnover amounted to $ 46 billion. It charges Rs 60,000 for one ampule of injection to tackle retinal haemorrhage for which three-to-four injections (costing Rs 1,80,000 or Rs 2,40,000) are necessary. The moot question is: how many people can afford to pay such prohibitive amounts?

The report of the Department of Pharmaceuticals of the Government of India’s Ministry of Chemicals and Fertiliser for 2011-12 stated that the drug and pharmaceuticals’ annual turnover in the country in that financial year was $ 21.04 billion. Needless to underscore that the lion’s share of this went to foreign drug multinationals like Novartis.

Against this backdrop, the Apex Court’s verdict needs to be unreservedly welcomed. In a frontpage report in The Times of India on April 3, Chidanand Rajghatta has written:

Big Pharma found little support from the small guy on the street as the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to reject patent claims of Novartis for its cancer medicine Glivec reverberated across the world.

The pharma lobby railed against the decision but the overwhelming sentiment—from physicians to politicians, from academia to media, particularly in a country groaning from the high cost of healthcare—was that the court did good by workaday people, not just by the poor in the developing world but also those struggling in the developed world...

The drug, considered a magic bullet for leukemia, was actually developed jointly by Dr Brian Druker, Director of the Oregon Health and Science University’s Knight Cancer Institute, and Nicholas Lydon of Novartis...

Druker himself welcomed the Indian ruling, but with a caveat: the price of medications should not be restricted to the extent that it inhibits future investment in new drugs, he said. At the same time, he criticized the pharma majors’ predatory pricing in the past, including in reference to Glivec.

The significance of the report can barely be overestimated.

Meanwhile, the BJP has once more exposed its double standards. As The Times of India aptly pointed out,

The Narendra Modi government has belied its reputation for good governance in Gujarat by passing a Lokayukta Bill which effectively turns the Lokayukta into a handmaiden of the State Government. This exposes a faultline in the BJP’s stance on corruption, whereby it is all for a strong and independent anti-corruption ombudsman at the Centre, but wants to neuter the institution in the states where it is in power. Such double standards give currency to the charge that the BJP’s stand on corruption is an opportunistic one. It’s likely the BJP too would opt for a toothless Lokpal, were it to assume power at the Centre.

The fact is that the recently adopted Lokayukta Commission Bill in Gujarat shows that the committee to select the Lokayukta is to be headed by the State CM himself. This clearly undermines the indepen-dence of the Lokayukta. What is more, the relevant legislation empowers the government to exclude complaints against some of its functionaries. What then happens to the much-touted crusade against corruption by the principal Opposition party at the Centre? And these double standards totally negate the BJP’s tall claim of being a “party with a difference” that has already been dented due to its acrobatics in Karnataka. One feels that this will extract a heavy price from the organisation in the long term, that is, especially during the Lok Sabha poll campaign regardless of the lacklustre performance of the Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi duo running the UPA II that the BJP has been trying to exploit to the hilt for reaping electoral dividend.

Mamata Bajerjee has done it again. The death in police custody of a 22-year-old promising student leader of the SFI in Kolkata found her expressing grief over the incident on the first day before asserting the following day that it was, after all, a “small and petty” issue—an utterance that has justifiably been interpreted by the CPM as “insensitive”. Secondly, even before the post-mortem report by the doctors was made public she decreed that it was “just an accident” and not the fallout of police atrocity. Sitaram Yechury of the CPM promptly retorted: “If that is really the case, why doesn’t she agree to a judicial or CBI 
inquiry into the incident?” To that she has refrained from expressing her opinion. Apart from governance deficits, her sudden outbursts like these are gradually alienating her from the State’s intelligentsia. Such “self-goals” on the part of Mamata would invariably affect her image at least in Kolkata despite all the goodwill she still retains in rural Bengal.

Is she at all capable of rectifying herself and displaying in the coming days the maturity that is expected from a Chief Minister? Or, is she beyond redemption?

April 4 S.C.

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