New Delhi, Oct 9 :
The Supreme Court Thursday said it will hear a PIL challenging the government order to withdraw the drug price control guidelines, resulting in steep increase in prices of essential medicines or lifesaving drugs for treatment of heart ailments, cancer, AIDS, tuberculosis, blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and rabies.
A bench of Chief Justice H.L.Dattu, Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre agreed to hear the PIL after counsel M.L. Sharma told the court that the government by its Sep 22 order denuded the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) of its power to control drug prices.
Mentioning the matter, Sharma told the court that the decision to withdraw the drug price control guidelines issued ay 29 by the NPPA was against the public interest and gave windfall gain to the pharmaceutical companies.
Linking the withdrawal of NPPA guidelines on controlling the prices of essential drugs with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the US, the PIL noted that the chemicals and fertiliser ministry had May 30 delegated the powers to the NPPA to regulate the prices of life-saving drugs.
“The government later withdrew these guidelines, ahead of Modi’s visit to the US,” the PIL said.
Urging the court to quash the Sep 22 circular as being against the interest of the general public, arbitrary, unconstitutional and illegal, Sharma has sought a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the circumstances leading to the decision to withdraw the NPPA guidelines.
The PIL said that it was incumbent upon the government to act or frame policies that protect the life of the citizens of India – a mandate of Article 21 guaranteeing protection of life and personal liberty.
The NPPA had issued the May 29 guidelines in pursuance of the Drug (Prices Control) Order, 2013, which had superseded the earlier Drug (Prices Control) Order, 1995. The DPCO, 2013, was issued in exercise of the powers conferred under Section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.
Section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, spells the powers to control production, supply, distribution, etc. of essential commodities and their availability at fair prices.
In pursuance to the May 29 guidelines, the NPPA capped the prices of 108 drugs that were in addition to 800 drugs that were already under price control regime.
Sharma in his petition said the government without any basis issued the Sep 22 circular withdrawing the NPPA’s power to control and regulate the prices of the drugs, and the sole beneficiary were the drug companies.
The PIL urged the court to address and examine whether Sep 22 circular withdrawing NPPA guidelines was in public interest or not; whether a policy, against the public interest, is liable to be struck down or not; and whether the said circular was repugnant to the mandate of Article 21.