One of India’s leading mask manufacturers Venus Safety and Health Private Ltd has issued at least 38 legal notices during the Covid-19 pandemic to owners of manufacturing units that produce counterfeit masks using the company’s brand name. As demand for masks continues in the pandemic, counterfeiting has remained an issue of concern.
“Everyone is making money in our name. The local manufacturer, distributor and retailer selling the mask,” said Mahesh Kudav, managing director of Venus. The company has registered seven cases where over 47,000 fake masks have been retrieved through police raids, and FIRs have been lodged across Delhi, Ghaziabad, Bengaluru, Kolkata, and Mumbai.
The issue of counterfeited masks holds public health concern. The masks seized during raids were made of inferior quality cloth with no quality checks to ensure they prevent exposure from virus. Instead of meltblown non-woven fabric called polypropylene (which traps dust), small-scale manufactures use a similar looking fabric to make N-95 masks.
In the latest case on November 3, Sahibabad police in Ghaziabad raided a manufacturing unit and found 7,562 fake masks with brand name Venus 4400 N-95. The FIR stated the manufacturer had used a white cloth and put a fake Venus seal to sell the masks. The police have named one Amit Mohan as the accused in the FIR. Mohan was a cloth bag manufacturer who bought a machine and started producing masks, selling them under the brand name of Venus and 3M.
Manpreet Singh from EIPR Pvt Ltd, a company that helps brands investigate into counterfeiting, said there is a high demand of masks, which can be produced in high volume and yield huge profits. This combination has encouraged local manufacturers to start small-scale productions. “We got to know the manufacturing cost of one mask was Rs 4 and these local manufacturers were selling a mask for Rs 200. They were using brand name to sell. A customer will be unable to differentiate between a fake and original,” Singh said.
EIPR has been gathering intelligence on counterfeiting and registering FIRs for Venus as well as another manufacturer 3M India in case of counterfeited masks. Officials from the EIPR said tailors, bag manufacturers and those regularly involved in the business of counterfeiting switched to mask manufacturing with the onset of Covid-19 pandemic. In one case in Delhi, a dye manufacturer was also involved in counterfeiting.
These masks have made way into not just street-side stalls of hawkers, but also into chemist shops and e-pharmacy portals. In another FIR on October 15 by Dum Dum police station, 8,600 fake masks of 3M and 9,100 masks of Venus were recovered from a shop. A 30-year-old shop owner, Abhijit Ghosh, has been named accused.
Anil Navander, from The Maharashtra State Chemists and Druggists Association, said the number of distributors in the supply chain of masks has shot up during the pandemic. “Mask is not a very well regulated product. For a chemist to differentiate between a fake and an original mask is difficult. And that is why we prefer buying only branded products. But if it is counterfeited, then a chemist cannot make out the difference,” he said.
Gulfaraz Makani, director of EIPR, said they have carried 10 raids into mask counterfeiting with help of police across India. The company found four manufacturers producing fake 3M masks in Delhi, and two in Kolkata. “More raids are underway. The brands have also become conscious of counterfeiting and are taking interest in taking such practice to a logical conclusion. The material local manufacturers use is inferior and different. It also poses a health risk if a person wears a mask thinking it will protect him against coronavirus but it actually doesn’t,” Makani said.
Rakesh Bhagat, director of Magnum Medicare Pvt Ltd, also a mask manufacturer, said he has reported the issue of counterfeiting to the Textile Ministry as well as the Health Ministry. “When we came across cases initially in May, we had warned a couple of manufacturers to refrain from copying our brand name,” he said.
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