When Raman Singh’s Chhattisgarh government cracked down on Mahawar Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd for supplying drugs of “suspicious quality” for the laparoscopic tubectomies that led to 13 deaths in Bilaspur over the last week, it remained silent on a crucial detail.
On March 21, 2012, Health Minister Amar Agarwal had informed the State Assembly that the company had been found guilty of selling “duplicate generic drugs” and that “a case was registered against it on February 2, 2012 in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate Raipur.”
Apart from the police case, records reveal that seven medicines supplied by this company had been banned by the state government for various reasons over different periods of time.
Yet, the state government continued to purchase drugs from the company which also owns a small factory operating from a residential colony of Raipur without even a signboard.
In the latest instance, the company had supplied an antibiotic — Ciprofloxacin — for the surgeries in Bilaspur, ironically the home district of Health Minister Agarwal.
Chief Minister Singh did not respond to requests for comment but Agarwal said that the drugs were purchased by a local official “at his individual level”.
“We did not purchase these medicines. These were purchased by the Bilaspur Chief Medical Officer at his individual level,” Amar Agarwal told The Indian Express.
However, government doctors have refuted the minister’s claim and said that the administration has been purchasing drugs from this company for over ten years.
Indicating the possibility that the drugs supplied for the camp may have been of inferior quality, Chhattisgarh Health Secretary Alok Shukla said, “It seems that it (the deaths) could be a case of Zinc Phosphate poisoning.”
While Agarwal sought to distance the government from Mahavir Pharma, the fact remains that the State Food and Drug Controller had awarded the company a Good Medical Practice certificate last year, an official acknowledgement of the “quality standards” maintained by the company.
Even the local police have said, in statements on the case, that the company had been supplying drugs to the government.
“A case under Section 420 has been filed against the company,” Raipur IG G P Singh said. “They were registered as manufacturers, but it was found that they did not manufacture here. They merely brought drugs from elsewhere and packaged here. They did not maintain many records either.”
Police have also arrested the company’s directors Mahesh Mahavar and his son Sumit Mahavar after the Food and Drug Controller sealed the company’s premises Thursday. The company has subsequently issued a statement claiming that it had never received any complaint about the antibiotic that it had supplied for the Bilaspur camp.
“We never sell to the government,” it said in a statement. “We sell to drug traders, who supply it to various agencies. This antibiotic is sold at many places. We have never received any complaint.”
In 2012, Agarwal had also told the Assembly that the government had prohibited the company from manufacturing seven medicines over varying periods, and was issued a showcause notice for the production of another drug, Agarwal said. The police case referred to by the Minister then brought five other drugs supplied by the company under the scanner.
Records show that the subsequent purchases from the company were made by Chhattisgarh Medical Service Corporation Ltd on behalf of the government. Officials said the drugs were purchased only after “tendering and examining the quality of drugs”.
As per norms, the government does not release payment for the drugs unless samples have passed the quality test.
The Chhattisgarh chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has called for a statewide bandh tomorrow in support of Dr R K Gupta, who was arrested for conducting the laparoscopic tubectomies in Bilaspur that led to 13 deaths. The IMA has termed his arrest as “arbitrary”.