Nepal’s Department of Ayurveda and Alternative Medicines on Monday stopped distribution of' Coronil kits that were gifted by the Patanjali group of Indian yoga teacher and businessman Ramdev.
Kathmandu's order cited that proper procedures were not followed while procuring the 1,500 kits of Coronil that Patanjali claims are useful in dealing with COVID-19 infection. The issue has drawn attention as it is being interpreted as a move to delink leading Madhesi political families from the Indian group.
The latest order of the Government of Nepal says, the tablets and nasal oil that are part of the Coronil kit are not equivalent to medicines to defeat COVID-19 virus. While pointing at shortcomings of the kits, Nepalese officials pointed to the recent statements against Coronil by the Indian Medical Association (IMA), which has challenged Mr. Ramdev to prove the efficacy of his products to deal with the COVID-19.
Nepal is the second country after Bhutan to stop distribution of Coronil kits. Bhutan’s Drug Regulatory Authority has already stopped distribution of Coronil in the kingdom.
However, Nepal remains close to the Patanjali group as the organisation maintains a large production facility and distribution networks in Nepal. It is not yet clear if the ban on the distribution will be limited to the particular consignment or get expanded to cover Coronil kits across the country.
Monday’s order also sparked controversy within the Government of Nepal as the Coronil kits were received during the tenure of previous health minister Hridyesh Tripathi and the minister in charge of women and child development, Juli Mahato. Soon afterwards, Ms. Mahato and her husband Raghuvir Mahaseth tested positive drawing attention to their support for Patanjali group.
The latest order is being interpreted as an attempt by Oli government to distance itself from the Patanjali group as it is perceived to be close to Ms. Mahato's brother, industrialist Upendra Mahato. Mr Mahato is one of the biggest industrialists of Nepal and is widely known to be a partner of Patanjali group in the country.
Following last week's cabinet reshuffle, Mr Mahaseth has been appointed one of the three Deputy Prime Ministers and he is also in charge of the Foreign Ministry. Sher Bahadur Tamang has taken over as the new Health Minister. The Mahatos and the Mahaseths are prominent Madhesi families of Nepal and Mr. Ramdev’s business facilities in Nepal are also located mostly in the Madhes region also known as the Terai plains.
The latest development highlights the connection between the Indian group and Nepal’s current political leaders, especially the resurgent Madhesis.
In 2016, Patanjali set up a production facility near Birgunj in partnership with Mr. Upendra Mahato. The facility was inaugurated by President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. Apart from the Madhesi leaders, Patanjali group is also known to have good relation with the leaders like Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” among others.
Opponents of the Oli government like former PM Madhav Kumar Nepal and Mr. Prachanda have accused Mr. Oli and his chosen Madhesi leaders from the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) of having benefited from India’s political support. The health department of Mr Oli’s government has been criticised over the handling of the pandemic in Nepal, which has been hit hard by the second wave in recent months.