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Pulling strings for Remdesivir is all-party affair in Maharashtra

Politicians from several parties, including those in the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), sold or distributed the drug directly to people after procuring it from the manufacturer, or by dipping into district stocks.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai |
Updated: April 26, 2021 1:17:21 pm
People queue up in Pune to buy Remdesivir. (Express Photo: Ashish Kale)

After former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his BJP colleague Pravin Darekar intervened in the police investigation into alleged hoarding of remdesivir in Mumbai earlier this month, the BJP was accused of trying to distribute the antiviral drug directly in the state, as it had done at some places in Gujarat.

In fact, politicians from several parties, including those in the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), sold or distributed the drug directly to people after procuring it from the manufacturer, or by dipping into district stocks, The Indian Express found.

As per the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, remdesivir, an investigational drug, can only be distributed by the manufacturer to licensed distributors, stockists, or Covid hospitals.

* Former MLA Shirish Chaudhari, BJP; Nandurbar; distributed 1,500 vials:

Even before Daman-based exporter Bruck Pharma got local authorisation from the Maharashtra Food & Drugs Administration to supply remdesivir in the state on April 18, Chaudhari had bought the drug directly from the company, transporting them from Daman to Maharashtra in the first week of April. He distributed the vials from Hotel Heera Executive in Nandurbar to patients.

When contacted, Chaudhari said: “Exporters have the stock and they are willing to supply (remdesivir). People were running around for vials so I decided to distribute it. I have had a relationship with them (Bruck) for several years, and they were ready to supply to me.”

Chaudhari said he had purchased each vial for Rs 1,650. He said he had distributed some for free; at other places, he had sold each vial for Rs 800.

Bruck Pharma did not respond to calls and messages seeking a comment.

* Former MLA Chandrakant Raghuvanshi, Shiv Sena; Nandurbar; distributed 6,000 vials:

Following authorisation by the state government, the Nandurbar administration procured 5,000 vials of remdesivir, including 1,000 vials funded by a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative. Nandurbar Collector Dr Rajendra Bharud handed over 1,000 vials of the drug to Raghuvanshi.

Raghuvanshi said he had also purchased the drug from other distributors, and had sold it for Rs 550-1,200 per vial at the Rotary Wellness Centre, Nandurbar. The supply to Rotary was stopped after Dr Heena Gavit, the BJP MP from Nandurbar, raised objections.

The MP has demanded an inquiry into how the Collector had distributed remdesivir to Rotary. On April 19, Raghuvanshi announced that he was stopping the distribution of the drug.

“Let there be an inquiry, I don’t care,” Raghuvanshi said. “I have an FDA licence. We buy stock from P S Pharma in Nashik. I bought remdesivir for Rs 1,500, but distributed it for Rs 1,200 to needy patients.”

Collector Bharud did not respond to calls and messages from The Indian Express.

* Sharad Pawar and Rohit Pawar, NCP; Solapur, Ahmednagar, Beed, Pune; distributed more than 300 vials:

Earlier this month, NCP leader Sharad Pawar transported 75 vials to Solapur, where MLA Rohit Pawar handed them to former NCP city president Mahesh Gadekar, NCP state general secretary Prashant Babar, and former corporator Deepak Rajage. The injections were purchased through the Nationalist Congress Party Welfare Fund.

Earlier this month, MLA Rohit Pawar handed over 75 vials to former NCP city president Mahesh Gadekar, NCP state general secretary Prashant Babar, and former corporator Deepak Rajage.

Gadekar told The Indian Express: “I do not know where they purchased the stock. I was only told to give it to the Collector. The Collector asked me to hand it over to the district committee. The vials were meant for poor and needy patients.”

Pawar also distributed the drug to the district administrations of Beed, Ahmednagar, and Pune.

Rohit Pawar said: “The vials were facilitated by the NCP Welfare Trust, to be distributed to the district administration for free to those who need them in emergency. It was not for political gain, it was to help needy patients.”

The Indian Express did not get a response from Sharad Pawar’s office.

* MLC Amrish Patel, BJP; Shirpur:

Patel is the president of Shri Vile Parle Kelavani Mandal (SVKM), a Mumbai-based educational trust, and Chancellor of SVKM’s NMIMS, formerly known as Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies. He procured remdesivir for R C Patel Generic Store, which is attached to the R C Patel Institute of Pharmaceutical Education & Research, of which Patel is the president.

“We are getting it (remdesivir) at a discounted rate of Rs 775 and providing it for less to poor people. We are only doing this to save lives,” he told The Indian Express.

Patel defended Nandurbar’s Shirish Chaudhari, and said “there is nothing wrong in buying stock from an exporter who has the stock but not a marketing licence”.

Dr Madhuri Borse, who is attached to the BJP, posted on social media that she was selling remdesivir in Dhule.

* MP Sujay Vikhe Patil, BJP:

The MP from Ahmednagar, a neurosurgeon-turned-politician, posted a video on Twitter that showed him seated inside an aircraft with boxes purportedly containing remdesivir piled on adjoining seats.

Patil said: “I have taken the decision to procure remdesivir in my personal capacity using my networks and contacts as a neurosurgeon, and not as a politician.

“I recently saw a 22-year-old youth dying in front of my eyes for lack of remdesivir. I cannot remain a silent spectator. I had to act. I worked my contacts and went to the factory to procure the stock from Delhi.”

Patil claimed 100 remdesivir injections each had been provided to Saibaba Hospital in Shirdi and Ahmednagar district hospital. “The remdesivir stock will be used in the service of poor people.”

There are more examples. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari issued a press release saying he had spoken with Sun Pharma and asked for 10,000 vials of remdesivir for Nagpur. Dr Madhuri Borse, who is attached to the BJP, posted on social media that she was selling remdesivir in Dhule.

A top official from Hetero Healthcare said there has been “immense” pressure from politicians to divert stocks of the drug to them. An official from Kamla Lifesciences said they were receiving calls on a daily basis from politicians of all parties, asking for remdesivir.

(With Shubhangi Khapre)

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