SC miffed at delay in drug notification

Common man fleeced by the drug manufacturers

The Supreme Court on Thursday decided to wait till mid-November for the government to come out with new drug pricing policy while reiterating that the new regime should not lead to price escalation.

A bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya was livid over the delay in issuing notification bringing 348 drugs under the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM).
The drug pricing control order was last passed in 1995, the court pointed out.

“Drugs prescribed by doctors; eminent or not so eminent, are beyond the reach of common man. It is an issue concerning every common man of this country. Take any antibiotic, it will not cost less than Rs 50 or 60, if prescribed for one or two days, a poor person will go hungry,” the bench said. 

“Courts are entirely slow at interfering with the policy matter of the government. For 17 years, if things don’t move, where will the common man go,” the bench said.

Additional Solicitor General Sidharth Luthra, appearing for Ministry of Health, submitted that the centre was bringing out new drug pricing control order and the cabinet would be clearing it in its next meeting.

“We are in the process of legislative activity. Issuance of mandamus would pre-empt the policy to come out,” he said, adding that the Group of Ministers had already taken a conscious decision on the matter.

On this, the bench said that it just wanted outer limit of time by which the order would be passed.

“It is an issue which concerns the common man of the country. Your affidavit is not upto the mark. It is a matter of uncertainty. We want to know the date of cabinet decision,” the bench said.

“We shudder to think how common man of the country has been fleeced by the drug manufacturers,” the court observed.

There is one formula based on cost of production and other reasonable profit margin and then there is another by which average prices will go up. We don’t go for that. Pricing policy should not be such which is comparative with brands. We will see if you are increasing the prices by changing a policy, the court added.

Let the government and manufacturers give an undertaking. Government is bound to be concerned with economics but substantially for the availability of drugs for the people. The rising cost is okay but there should not be any change in the pricing formula, the court said.

“Parliament is the first place to take a decision but the courts are entitled to tell you that you should take a decision and implement it. We are aware that the cabinet has met several times after May this year, was this issue so unimportant that the department concerned did not think it right to put it before them,” the court asked the ASG.

The bench also expressed their displeasure as the PIL filed by NGO All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN) was pending since 2003.

The court posted the matter for further hearing for November 27.

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