Mumbai: The political slugfest between the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over procurement of remdesivir heated up with the state questioning how a political party can make its way into the supply chain of an essential drug, and the latter criticising the coalition for turning down its “charitable contribution” for the people of Maharashtra.
However, it also emerged that different arms of the state government were not on the same page, further fuelling the controversy.
While MVA leaders questioned how the BJP could procure lakhs of life-saving drugs without informing the government, Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) Minister Rajendra Shingne told ThePrint that he knew of the BJP’s plan to procure remdesivir.
Also, the Mumbai Police, which called in a Bruck Pharma executive for questioning Saturday night regarding a huge quantity of the drug being stored in the city, was unaware of an FDA letter allowing the company to sell its stock in Maharashtra.
The state, which has been regularly recording more than 60,000 Covid cases daily, has been facing a shortage of remdesivir, an antiviral drug that has been repurposed to treat Covid-19.
Remdesivir stock was to be charitable contribution: BJP
The BJP was procuring 50,000 doses of remdisivir at Rs 950 a piece from Bruck Pharma Private Limited which has its manufacturing unit in Daman, at a total cost of Rs 4.75 crore, BJP leader Prasad Lad told ThePrint.
“We meant to give it to the state government. It would have been like a charitable contribution from us to the people of Maharashtra. But the state government would rather let people die due to a drug shortage than accept any help from the BJP,” Lad said.
About 10 days ago, the BJP contacted executives of Bruck Pharma to get the company to sell its stock of remdesivir, which it exports, in the domestic market in Maharashtra.
A party source said Pravin Darekar, leader of opposition in the Legislative Council, knew the company executive well and started the initial negotiations.
“The company was willing to supply 10,000-15,000 doses a day to the state government. To begin with, we procured 50,000 vials from them with the intention of giving it to the state government,” the source said. While the stock is still with the company, three days ago, the BJP made a part of the Rs 4.75 crore payment, he added.
Darekar, along with an executive of Bruck Pharma, had met FDA Minister Shingne at his official residence in Mumbai three days ago. The BJP leader mentioned above said: “He informed the government that this company had stock of remdesivir since it couldn’t be exported any more and needs an FDA approval to be able to sell in the domestic market in Maharashtra.”
Confirming the meeting, Shingne told ThePrint, “Two or three distributors of remdesivir had, along with Darekar, met me two to three days ago. He (Darekar) gave me a letter saying exports have stopped and this stock is free to be sold in the domestic market provided it has FDA permission. They submitted a formal proposal accordingly and I immediately held a meeting with relevant officials and got the CM’s signature for them to be able to sell their stock in Maharashtra. That’s where the role of the FDA ended.”
Shingne, who is from the NCP, added: “During the discussion, Darekar mentioned that the BJP wants to procure vials to give them free of cost to people as a party programme. But there was nothing on paper and at that time, (and) it didn’t immediately strike me as odd. But, technically after getting permission they should have given the stock to the government through a formal route.”
‘Unheard of for political party to be part of supply chain’
A senior state government official, however, told ThePrint that it is unheard of for a political party to get into the supply chain of an essential drug and the government will explore if it can take any action.
“They (the BJP) had probably informed that such and such firm had an availability of stock. But a political party in the supply chain is unheard of. The normal route is we take a stock … in this times of shortage, the government’s own procurement body, Haffkeine Institute, and the Food and Drugs Administration are managing the supply chains for procuring for government hospitals and allotment to private hospitals. It is all done through a transparent formula based on the number of cases,” said the official, who did not wish to be named.
He added that the state government will explore if it can take any action under the Epidemic Act and Disaster Management Act against outside entities getting remdesivir.
MVA leaders, meanwhile, slammed the BJP for attempting to directly procure the drug.
NCP state president and cabinet minister Jayant Patil tweeted: “The real Q is: Can any BJP leader, without any info to State govt/Local authorities/Police, procure lakhs of lifesaving drugs @PMOIndia? It’s a new low.”
— Jayant Patil (@Jayant_R_Patil) April 18, 2021
State Congress President Nana Patole said, “Has the Centre given permission to Devendra Fadnavis and BJP to horde run a black market of remdesivir? There should be action against Fadnavis, Darekar and Prasad Lad for creating obstacles in police action.”
केंद्र सरकारने देवेंद्र फडणवीस आणि भाजपला रेमडेसिवीरची साठेबाजी आणि काळाबाजार करण्याची परवानगी दिली आहे का?
— Nana Patole (@NANA_PATOLE) April 18, 2021
Police versus politics
On Saturday night, the Mumbai Police picked up a director of Bruck Pharma for questioning about a huge quantity of the drug being stored in Mumbai.
Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis and Pravin Darekar had then rushed to the police station, saying they were unnecessarily harassing the company because the BJP had taken the initiative to get the antiviral drug to Maharashtra in times of a shortage.
“He (Fadnavis) said permission was taken from the FDA commissioner to donate the stock of remdesivir vials to the Maharashtra government… The communication of the FDA to the pharmaceutical company was not shared with BKC police station, which was acting independently on the information available with them,” Chaitanya S, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) and Mumbai Police spokesperson, said in a statement Sunday. The Bruck Pharma executive was allowed to go after questioning.
Speaking to reporters Sunday, Maharashtra’s new Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil said, “The police can call anybody for questioning and the BJP leaders’ actions amount to pressuring the officials and interfering in the official work. Such action is not right and will not be tolerated in future.”
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)