People have to go hungry for paying the medicine bill, says Judge

The Union government on Thursday told the Supreme Court that it would put in place by mid-November a Drug Price Control Order (DPCO) after the Union Cabinet’s approval.

Last week, the Bench asked the government to spell out a time frame within which a new policy would be put in place.

On Thursday, Additional Solicitor-General (ASG) Siddarth Luthra told a Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhaya that the policy required Cabinet approval, which would be done by month-end. “The Group of Ministers has taken a decision, but that decision is yet to be considered by the Cabinet. More time is required to allow the executive to take a decision. The process of legislative activity may not be curtailed by an interim mandamus,” he said.

Not satisfied, the Bench asked him to give a definite time frame. Accordingly, the ASG sought instructions and came out with his reply in the afternoon. He said, “The Cabinet will finalise the drug policy by mid-November. The essential drugs list will be notified a week thereafter under the Drug Price Control Order to include 348 drugs. The existing essential drugs list has only 74 items.” The government had finalised 348 drugs to be included in the DPCO schedule, but was yet to do so formally.

Have concern for common man

In the morning, Justice Singhvi conveyed the court’s displeasure, saying: “courts are extremely slow in interfering with policy. But for 17 years nothing happens, where people will go.” He made it clear to the government that prices should not escalate further in the new policy. “Drugs prescribed by doctors, eminent and not so eminent, is going beyond the reach of the common man. People have to go hungry for paying the medicine bill. The government can have concern for drug manufacturers but it must have substantial concern for the common man,” he said.

Justice Mukhopadhaya told the ASG: “Drug prices have gone beyond the reach of the common man. Drug manufacturers have stopped manufacturing cheap drugs. Keep this in mind while framing the new policy.”

The ASG said: “The new policy seeks to replace the earlier pricing formula with one in which prices would be decided on the basis of weighted average prices for all brands which have a market share of over 1 per cent.”

The Bench, which is hearing a PIL filed by NGO All India Drug Action Network, posted the case to November 27.

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