Coronavirus lockdown | Pharma units still not able to operate freely

Raw material supplies are hampered

April 20, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 07:48 am IST - MUMBAI

Customers wait outside a medical store in Siliguri on March 26, 2020.

Customers wait outside a medical store in Siliguri on March 26, 2020.

A week after the Department of Pharmaceuticals warned of an impending shortage of drugs  if pharmaceutical units are not able to operate freely during the lockdown , there has only been a marginal improvement in their functioning, with employee movement, transport and raw material supplies still hampered, and courier services remaining non-functional.

Most domestic pharmaceutical producers are operating at 30%-50% of capacity, while larger research-driven players say they have hit 40%-50%. 

India coronavirus lockdown Day 26 updates  | Helpline numbers

On April 11, the Department of Pharmaceuticals told the Home Ministry  that the industry was operating at just 20%-30% of capacity and called for immediate measures to bring the output back to the pre-lockdown level.

The Department is co-ordinating with the Ministry of Civil Aviation to bring in raw materials, finished drugs and vaccines on special flights operated by Air India. The Department of Posts and the Railways have offered pharma producers their services to help reach products to the hinterland.

“Manpower availability has improved a little, but people who have left the cities and gone back are hard to replace. Materials movement hasn’t improved much and packaging also remains difficult to procure,” said Daara Patel, secretary-general of the Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association, which represents over 1,000 large, small and medium companies.

Coronavirus lockdown  | E-commerce firms can’t supply non-essential goods, says government

The industry is hoping that things may start to improve from Monday, as parts of the country will relax the lockdown norms, and trucks carrying essential as well as non-essential goods have been allowed to move across State borders in the past week.

“There is a very slight improvement in the operating capacities among our big and small members — 30% to a maximum of 50%,” said Mr. Patel, adding that raw material consignments were stuck at ports and airports for clearance, especially at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port (JNPT), the Mumbai airport and the Chennai port. 

K.G. Ananthakrishnan, Director-General of the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI), which represents large research-focussed firms, said the congestion at the JNPT and the Mumbai airport should be eased to fast-track import as well as export orders. OPPI members are operating at 40%-50% of their installed capacities, an improvement from a week ago.

“Truck movement has improved, coming from a zero level (when the lockdown was initiated) to 40%-50%. Availability of cold chain services, critical for moving vaccines and insulin, are still at 30% of the pre-lockdown levels, and we have been alerting the government to this,” Mr. Ananthakrishnan said.

Download The Hindu ’s multi-language e-book on essential COVID-19 information

The Department of Pharmaceuticals is monitoring the situation and has created chat groups for producers to flag concerns and liaise with other Ministries for possible solutions to these challenges on a real-time basis. “In the pharma industry, we have not used postal services earlier, but now many companies are exploring the option,” the OPPI secretary-general said, stressing that lack of courier services, especially to Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities from where drugs are despatched to remote areas, remained a problem. 

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.