As Maharashtra struggles with new highs of COVID-19 cases every day amid a crumbling health infrastructure and shortage of medicines and oxygen, a fresh controversy has erupted over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Devendra Fadnavis trying to procure the Remdesivir drug from a firm in Daman.
The Maharashtra Police on 17 April claimed that it was probing a case of alleged ‘illegal’ export of Remdesivir by Bruck Pharma. The Maharashtra BJP later claimed that due permission had been obtained by the party to procure it for donation to the Maharashtra government.
However, two days later, on Tuesday, 20 April, Foods and Drugs Administration Minister Dr Rajendra Shingane, as per ANI, admitted that the 60,000 vials of Remdesivir injections procured by the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was intended for the Maharashtra government.
The Mumbai police, the BJP, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are now engaged in a war of claims and counter-claims over the controversy, with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) calling the BJP’s claims “suspicious”.
Here’s a rundown of the whole controversy in five points:
- What racket does the Mumbai Police claim to be probing?
- How did Fadnavis come into the picture?
- What’s Fadnavis’ version? How did he get access to Remdesivir when the government could not?
- Is it illegal for a political party to buy Remdesivir to donate? AAP’s claims
- What do the NCP and the Congress say?
What Racket Does the Mumbai Police Claim to be Probing?
In a press note released on Sunday, 18 April, DCP (operations) and PRO for Mumbai Commissioner of Police, Chaitanya S, explained what had happened on the night of 17 April.
He said that the police had “specific information about the stock of a large quantity (60,000 vials) of Remdesevir by a pharmaceutical company”, which could not be exported due to an existing ban by the Government of India on its export.
The police said that it was acting on specific information and that “the director of this pharmaceutical company was called by BKC Police Station for an inquiry. A team from the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) was also present at the BKC police station. The Commissioner and Joint Commissioner of FDA were aware of this as well.”
How Did Fadnavis Come Into the Picture?
At around 11:15 pm on 17 April, the Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadanvis, Praveen Darekar, MLA Parag Alavani, and Prasad Lad arrived at the BKC police station. Fadnavis enquired why the director had been called.
Explaining what Fadnavis told them, the police said, “He (Fadnavis) said permission was taken from Commissioner FDA to donate the stock of Remdesivir vials to the Maharashtra government, as Remdesivir stocked for export cannot be diverted to the domestic market without permission from the Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI) or FDA.”
The police said that this communication was never shared with the police, which was therefore acting on independent information.
“Mumbai Police acted in good faith. The director of the pharmaceutical company was called for an inquiry in order to trace and seize a large quantity i.e. 60,000 vials, of the life-saving medicine Remdesevir, based on a specific input verified by facts,” it said.
These facts were explained to Fadnavis and the other leaders and the director of the pharma company was let off after being told he had to be present for inquiry whenever needed in the future.
Earlier, DCP Manjunath Singh had also told the media that the supplier was only called for an inquiry and that it wasn't an arrest.
There’s a shortage of Remdesivir in the state and black marketing is rampant. We had got information about this storage facility. Acting in good faith, we only wanted to verify the inputs. He (supplier) was called for an inquiry, it wasn’t an arrest.DCP Manjunath Singh
What’s Fadnavis’ Version? How Did He Get Access to Remdesivir When Govt Could Not?
Speaking to reporters, Fadnavis said, "Four days ago the Leader of Opposition Praveen Darekar and Prasad Lad had gone to Bruck Pharma in Daman and requested them to produce (Remdesivir) and supply it to us. They said that they can produce it, but won’t be able to sell it without permission. I then spoke to Union Minister Mansukh Mandviya, who got them to tie up with the Reddy’s so they could produce under a valid license. We then asked them to supply the medicine for Maharashtra but they needed more permissions. Accordingly, we got FDA's permission and spoke to the FDA there (Daman) and we were going to bring whatever we could to Maharashtra around 2:00 pm today (17 April).”
Fadnavis added that a Maharashtra minister’s OSD had called the company officials and “threateningly” asked them as to how they could provide Remdesivir to the opposition party and not the government.
“Around 9:00 pm, ten people went to his house to take him to the police station. (After coming here) The DCP told us that they had received some intelligence inputs that some exporters had 60,000 vials and wanted to verify the same. We showed them the permission letter from the FDA as well. He (DCP) said what he had to and that it wasn't communicated to them. Whatever said and done, the politics that has happened around this was completely wrong,” Fadnavis added.
Is It Illegal For a Political Party to Buy Remdesivir to Donate? AAP’s claims
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in a statement alleged that Fadnavis had used the central government to give the exporter permissions to sell locally and that the BJP purchased the stock of Remdisivir from Bruck Pharma.
"It is illegal for a political party to buy drugs, medicines, or any other articles for the purpose of donation. The shroud of charity can easily be used to bribe citizens. Hence, our Constitution and Representation of the People Act, 1951, have explicitly stated that political parties cannot do charity,” the party said in a press release.
"Why were BJP leaders treated with so much deference while common citizens are threatened by the police. Earlier this year, I tried to meet DCP Upadhyay, he made me wait. Then his office demanded that I leave my cellphone out and when I refused he did not let me enter his office. I had complained to the Commissioner, but no action was taken. But here, BJP leaders are seen recording the meeting on their phones! Why does Mumbai Police not treat all citizens equally?", said Preeti Sharma Menon, spokesperson and national executive member of AAP.
“The AAP Mumbai team demands action be taken against BJP for indulging in hoarding and breaking the law by indulging in illegal charity,” she added.
Mumbai Police Did the Right Thing: NCP, Congress
Jayant Patil, NCP minister in Maha Vikas Aghadi-led govt in Maharashtra, backed the Mumbai Police for ‘rightfully fulfilling their duty to check any supply malpractices/hoarding’.
He added that the real question was if any leader, without any information to state government, local authorities, police, procure lakhs of life-saving drugs? “It’s a new low,” he tweeted.
NCP national spokesperson and minister Nawab Malik accused the BJP of trying to stockpile the medicine in the state, and that there was something suspicious behind two opposition leaders and two MLAs going to the police station to rescue them.
After his comments, the BJP sought the registration of an FIR against him for “spreading panic through false information” after he alleged that the Centre was blocking supply of Remdesivir medicine to state, PTI reported.
The Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee spokesman Sachin Sawant in a blistering attack said, “What is the fault of the Mumbai Police? They had inputs that the stock of the medicine was with this pharma company and they were not given information about it. They were trying to investigate for two days. In a pandemic, when there is a shortage of Remdesivir what do you expect from the police? Can't they call anyone for an inquiry?”
“We congratulate DCP Manjunath Singe and team for promptly performing their duty & Condemn the act of BJP leaders,” he said.
Maharashtra reported 67,123 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the highest-ever for a day since the outbreak of the pandemic in March last year. The total cases in the state reached 37.7 lakh and deaths have marked 59,970.
What Rajendra Shingane Subsequently Said
Dr Shingane, according to IANS, told a local private TV channel on Tuesday that he was aware of the 60,000 vials of Remdesivir. Further, he said:
“The BJP leaders had met me at my house along with the manufacturers’ representatives. They offered to help us procure the Remdesivir stocks for the state government and I agreed to it.”Dr Shingane
(With inputs from PTI)
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