CIC orders disclosure on drug trials in ‘larger public interest’

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ordered the Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Center (BMHRC), a government body, to disclose information related to drug trials on victims of the 1984 gas tragedy to safeguard “larger public interest.”

The CIC criticised the BMHRC for not initiating the process of collecting testimonies from the “poor, helpless victims,” even after it issued an order. Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) had moved the commission.

Talking to The Hindu, Rachna Dhingra, who has been working with the gas victims, levelled a series of allegations against the hospital. “BMHRC was built to provide free medical care to the gas victims but they started testing [victims] as guinea pigs at the behest of multinational pharmaceutical corporations. As many as 15 trials and 13 deaths in 3 trials have taken place and no action was initiated against the BMHRC doctors, management or pharma companies,” Ms. Dhingra charged.

According to the commission’s initial notice, information was sought on the identity of the persons on whom different drugs were tested from 2000 to 2011; how much funds were received for the trials and the names of the companies which commissioned them; the names of the drugs, the number of patients involved and the number who died; and the minutes of the meetings which approved the trials.

On the basis of Ms. Dhingra’s RTI application, the commission asked the hospital to furnish details within a month which it did not. The hospital said the drug trials were conducted on private individuals and “disclosure of identity of these would compromise their privacy,” which is not permitted under the RTI Act. This argument annoyed the commission as it had instructed the BMHRC to “issue notice to any 25 patients at random on whom drugs were tried” to obtain “their consent for disclosure of their names” as per law.

Central Information Commissioner M.L. Sharma wrote that even if the patients did not agree to disclose information, “it is still open to this Commission to order disclosure.”

“Given the fact that a number of drugs manufactured by foreign/Indian companies were tried on these poor, helpless victims of the gas tragedy, I am of the opinion it would be in the larger public interest to disclose the requested information,” said Mr. Sharma in his order.

Chief Public Relations Officer of BMHRC Mazhar Ullah has been given six weeks’ time to “comply” with the order. Mr. Ullah said that he cannot comment till he received a copy.

Meanwhile, Ms. Dhingra has submitted papers to The Hindu that shows, as on 13.08.2010 the hospital conducted at least 10 drug trials and received an amount of 1,008,5100.

“We have proof that 15 trials were conducted and the money for the other trials are not accounted for,” she said.

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