The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed its strong displeasure over the Centre’s failure to finalise new drug policy and warned that it would pass order if no decision was taken on bringing 348 drugs under the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM).
A bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya said that the petition filed by All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN) on the issue has been pending since 2003 which was a “slur on the face of all stake-holders”.
At the outset, Additional Solicitor General Siddharth Luthra produced a letter by the under secretary of the department of pharmaceuticals, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, saying that Group of Ministers (GoM) had discussed the proposed drug policy in its meetings, but could not arrive at a final decision.
The submission drew immediate and strong words from the bench which noted that the letter was not carrying any details.
“Was it a silent meeting? The letter states nothing about the deliberations by the GoM or the status of the proposed policy. Did they actually deliberate or the honourable ministers were meditating during the meeting? You don’t talk when you meditate, right?,” the bench said.
Luthra said that there was a divergence of opinion between the Health and Chemicals and Fertilizers Ministries on the issue.
The court, however, was not impressed. “We live in a country where cost of monthly treatment of common ailments like blood pressure, sugar, etc exceeds monthly salaries of a sizeable population. Disposal of dead bodies is cheaper, in fact,” the bench remarked.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for AIDAN, submitted that the government failed to implement the court’s direction to finalise a pharma policy, putting all essential and life-saving drugs under price control so as to make them affordable and accessible to all. He sought court’s intervention to solve the problem.
“Do you want us to summon your ministers? You may not find it appropriate if we pass such orders or summon secretary-level officers for contempt of court. It was a decision to be taken by the cabinet and we find that the government is not willing to take a decision. We think we should pass an order bringing all 348 drugs under price-control policy,” the court said.
The court, however, put the matter for further hearing for September 27 after Luthra pleaded for a final opportunity to take a call on the policy.