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SC raps Ramadoss hard on knuckles, issues notices

SC raps Ramadoss hard on knuckles, issues notices

Author: Pioneer News Service
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 21, 2009.
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/157924/SC-raps-Ramadoss-hard-on-knuckles-issues-notices.html

The Centre's decision to discontinue vaccine production at three of its top-billing vaccine manufacturing PSUs got a rap from the Supreme Court on Friday with the man facing the heat for his misadventure, Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, asked by the court to justify his action.

The Government's order of January 15, 2008, closing three among the century-old vaccine units - Pasteur Institute, Coonoor (Tamil Nadu), Central Research Institute, Kasauli (Himachal Pradesh) and BCG Vaccine Laboratory, Chennai - was exposed by The Pioneer through a series of investigative stories which showed the closure move benefited Ramadoss's close associates.

The Bench of Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and Justice P Sathasivam found substance in the petition filed by former Union Health Secretary and former Planning Commission member SP Shukla, along with several NGOs, indicating the manner in which India's goal to achieve self-sufficiency in vaccine production was virtually stalled and the multi-crore industry sold out to private players, intent to sell vaccines with a higher price tag.

The PSUs suffered this fate after an inspection report by the Health Ministry found that the three units did not conform to the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards of good manufacturing practice (GMP).

The petition stated that just about Rs 50 crore were required to make the PSUs achieve the WHO grade. But the Minister abruptly closed the PSUs down and ordered import of Japanese vaccine which did not meet the GMP norms. Nothing prevented the PSUs from making vaccine for domestic use as non-adherence to GMP norms only barred their export.

New heads were appointed at the three institutes and the Minister, who did not release Rs 50 crore for the PSUs' modernisation, allotted huge amounts to construct a "vaccine park" at Chennai to offer private companies huge space and huge market to operate business from his constituency.

Taking note of this concern, the Bench issued notices to Ramadoss, the Health Ministry, the Drug Controller General of India, States of Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh, and the three PSUs.

Incidentally, the petition came up just a day after the Health Ministry was severely reprimanded by a parliamentary Standing Committee for its decision to close the vaccine PSUs. The committee, headed by Amar Singh, even recommended the immediate opening of the three units.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, who argued for the petitioner, pointed out the contribution made by the institutes, which were at the peak of its performance when closure was abruptly ordered. "The Government may be taking some follow-up action," the Bench suggested, wanting to believe that in the light of the parliamentary committee's report, the Government would take corrective steps.

The petition sought to expose the Minister's design to award vaccine licences to persons and companies associated with him. One such company was Green Signal Bio Pharma, run by Sundaraparipoornan, who was a close associate of Ramadoss. Citing The Pioneer reports, the petitioner alleged transfer of crucial resources - such as seed virus and guinea pigs - to Green Signal Bio Pharma by one N Elangeswaran, the then director of BCGVL and Pasteur Institute. Elangeswaran had later admitted that he was forced to close the units following pressure from the Ministry.

Seeking an expert committee's formation for inquiring into these allegations, the petitioner suggested the immediate reopening of the units. In support of its prayer, the petition stated that the vaccine industry, estimated at more than $ 150 million in India alone, had already begun to reap rich gains for private players.

In November 2006, the Pasteur Institute purchased measles seed from Green Signal Bio Pharma for Rs 3.25 crore, which was available for free from a Hyderabad-based PSU. The Government later sanctioned Rs 17.80 crore for the Pasteur Institute for measles vaccine production in collaboration with Green Signal company. The private company was to take home 70 per cent of the profit in the business.

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