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Govt wants pharmacists to reserve extra rack to boost sales of its low-cost generic drugs; may amend law to ensure compliance  

New Delhi: With its flagship scheme to deliver affordable medicines floundering, the Centre is now planning to sell its brand of generic drugs, the Jan Aushadhi (JA), through regular pharmacy outlets across the country.

As of now, the low-cost generic drugs are sold through the over 3,000 Jan Aushadhi stores, set up as part of the Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PMBJP). But the scheme has been hit by allegations of mismanagement of funds, serious quality control issues and charges that the medicines are at times sold at prices higher than market rates.

As per the new proposal, which the Drugs Technical Advisory Board approved in a meeting held last week, pharmacy outlets will have to keep a separate rack or shelf solely for the display of JA medicines. “The shelf will be placed in a part of the premises separate from the other medicines. It will have to be noticeably visible to consumers,” said a senior official in Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

ThePrint has reviewed the minutes of the meeting held on 16 May. The idea appears to be to create brand familiarity so that consumers can opt for low-cost alternatives and boost the government’s initiative of selling generic medicines.

The All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), the lobby of 8.5 lakh chemists across India, has agreed to the proposal. “We have agreed to allot space for the line of drugs sold at JA outlets and allow for the in-store branding opportunities. We are, however, awaiting details on profit margins and the demand potential,” said Jagannath Shinde, president, AIOCD.

To ensure compliance, the government is likely to amend the pharmacy act as well. “Considering the proposal, we are likely to amend the law to make the clause (of keeping a separate shelf for brand JA) mandatory,” said a senior official from the office of drugs controller general of India (DCGI), which regulates pharmacists across the country.

Ailing scheme

First launched as the Jan Aushadhi Yojana in November 2008, the scheme was rebranded as the PMBJP by the Modi government, under which, it has grown exponentially — from the 199 Jan Aushadhi stores of UPA 2, the NDA has opened over 3,000 such stores.

But the government’s own internal audit committee, the Office of Chief Controller of Accounts, has found several irregularities with flagship low-cost drugs scheme. The audit report has made 14 points against the Bureau of Pharma PSUs of India (BPPI), the department that runs the Jan Aushadhi stores, for irregularities noticed between 2014-15 and 2016-17. The report alleges severe mismanagement of funds, as well as something much more dangerous for consumers — the BPPI, it found, was accepting medicines that should be rejected as per its own rules. It also states that some medicines are being sold at prices higher than the market cost, defeating the entire purpose of the initiative.

In April this year, BPPI had recalled over seven products from the Jan Aushadhi stores due to quality lapses. This was in addition to the six drugs recalled between January and March, taking the total to 13 in just the first four months of 2018; there were 11 such recalls in all of 2017.

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