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Case of missing de-addiction tablets: Minister says health secretary acted in haste, with bias

The minister has now demanded an inquiry into the entire episode from the Chief Minister.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh | Published: July 2, 2020 8:33:52 am
punjab health minister, de addiction medicine, punjab news The Health Secretary had constituted a three-member inquiry committee led by DHS.

Months after Punjab Health Secretary Anurag Aggarwal created a furore by issuing notices to 23 private de-addiction centres and a pharmaceutical company, reporting that data of 5 crore de-addiction pills purchased by these centres was missing, Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu has said that the “Health Secretary’s action was biased”, had “caused an embarrassment to the government” as he “brought on record certain points which have no substance and cannot be corroborated by any documents.”

Raising questions on the claims by the Health Secretary and subsequent issuing of notices to private de-addiction centres and a pharmaceutical company, the Health Minister has made a noting on the official file of missing Buprenorphine-Naloxone tablets, saying, “The sequence of events and facts as shown clearly demonstrate that the Health Secretary has brought on record certain facts which have no substance and cannot be corroborated by any document. The issue of missing pills was raised by him in November 2019 but even after seven months no concrete verification, reconciliation has been done by him. The HS should have got a thorough audit done of private de-addiction centres and taken a thorough report from the DHS office with correct and actual figures before issuing showcause notices to private de-addiction centres. The actions of HS seem to have been done in haste and it is a personal bias to highlight and sensationalise the issue which has brought huge embarrassment to the government.”

The Health Secretary had constituted a three-member inquiry committee led by DHS. But the committee did not analyse or collate any data.

Sidhu has stated that the inquiry committee led by DHS is on record to say that they did not give any report while Aggarwal put up a file to the HM by himself analysing the data given by Civil Surgeons.

The inquiry committee, Sidhu has noted, told him that they did not analyse or collate the data received from Civil Surgeons of various districts as it was bulky and no analysis could be made without checking the record of private centres personally and all this could not be done in such a short time.

The minister has now demanded an inquiry into the entire episode from the Chief Minister. Following this, the CM has handed the inquiry to chief of STF of Drugs, Harpreet Sidhu, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Kahan Singh Pannu and Director Health Services Dr Avneet Kaur.

The issue had come to fore in November last year. Over 20 private drug de-addiction centres had got notices on the plea that they had purchased over 8 crore tablets of but online data showed only 3 crore sold to addicts under the de-addiction programme despite a clear SOP by the government.

There was no record of 5 crore pills amid concerns that these could have been sold off in the open market and caused a setback to state’s anti-drug drive.

Anurag Aggarwal when contacted said that “it was an internal matter of the department. Why should I discuss it with you? I have made a noting on the file. It is an internal matter.”

Sidhu has written on the file that the after matter of missing Buprenorphine-Naloxone tablets in the private de-addiction centres of the state was “brought on record by Anurag Aggarwal, Principal Secretary, Health…this caused huge embarrassment to the government”.

He goes on to add, “Subsequently, HM had asked for a detailed report and instructions were given to Civil Surgeons of all districts to constitute a three-member committee and submit their report. Reports of Civil Surgeons submitted to the department did not mention anything about the status of gaps in the number of tablets. Subsequently, his office (Sidhu’s) asked for a detailed report of both offline and online data from all Civil Surgeons.”

“After receiving reports from Civil Surgeons, a committee comprising Director Health Services, Punjab, Deputy Director mental Health and Civil Surgeon Mohali was constituted by Health Secretary Anurag Aggarwal to verify and analyse the data received from the Civil Surgeons. The Health Secretary put up the file to the HM on March 18 with the analysis done by him regarding the reports of Civil Surgeons stating there is a huge difference in the data. He had commented: ‘all this shows that these private de-addiction centres have cooked up the data’.”

The noting further says that “on March 23, the HM called a meeting of the committee to understand the issue. It was shocking to note that the committee members revealed that they had not submitted any report pertaining to the issue”.

“The committee has stated that it is not possible to analyse the online and offline data as the Food and Drug Administration have stated that the data earlier sent to Health Secretary office was neither verified nor reconciled by Zonal Licensing Authorities nor by Drug Control Officers. The data was huge ….and it was not possible to verify without visiting each centre in a short period. The committee has recommended a thorough probe by an independent agency,” it concludes.

About the process followed, the minister remarks, “In the present case, all powers have been usurped by Health Secretary whereas the licensing authority should have monitored and given a detailed report regarding the functioning, status and gaps if any of the complaints of private de-addiction centres.”

But this is not the first time that the Health Minister and the Health Secretary are not on the same page. Earlier, when Aggarwal had issued notices to 23 de-addiction centres, Sidhu had opposed the move.

Only recently, Sidhu has reversed his orders to dismiss 22 lab technicians at Amritsar district hospital citing “VIP culture”. Later, Sidhu had even asked the DHS not to implement any orders by Aggarwal as Health Secretary unless they are also countersigned by the minister.

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