Are pharmaceuticals related more to chemicals than health?

I received a call from Professor Sam Gupta yesterday.

(please refer to my article at:

He is returning to the US next week. Before that, he felt, it will be nice if he and I can manage some time to have a leisurely chat on various issues related to the pharmaceutical industry in India.

Sam had time, so did I on the following Sunday. We agreed to meet and discuss the subject while going for a long drive through the ‘Western Ghats’, leaving Mumbai early morning.

On the ‘D day’, I took the wheel. We fastened our seat belts and soon were on the highway. While leaving behind ‘aamchi Mumbai’ and taking the first ‘ghat road’, our Sam deviated from his usual humorous chat on America’s ‘Uncle Sam’ and fired his first salvo, “the Government of India (GoI) just created a new department called the ‘Department of Pharmaceuticals’, presumably to have greater focus on the pharmaceutical Industry. Why is that the department has still been kept under the Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers and not under the Ministry of Health?” Taking a short breather, professor quipped, ‘does GoI consider pharmaceuticals related more to chemicals rather than health?’

What a first salvo!…indeed thought-provoking, at least to me. I soon lost myself to the question, diving deep into my memory lane, at the same time keeping both my right and left brain active to ponder over this interesting subject. Professor’s inquisitive chat gradually faded away from my ears…

Creation of the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP):

I had a quick recap on this subject.

In mid 2008, GoI had set up a new department under the Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilisers (MC&F), called the ‘Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP)’. The department was created primarily to have a greater focus on the pharmaceutical sector.

Historically, issues and policies related to pharmaceuticals used to be handled by the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals. A separate Department of Fertilisers still handles all issues related to fertilizers in India. Both the departments were within the MC&F.

The then Minister of MC&F probably felt that the pharmaceuticals sector has very complex issues, besides others, related to pricing, access and availability, IPR, and other international commitments that necessitate integration of work with other ministries. A separate department for pharmaceuticals was, therefore, necessary to do justice to the pharmaceuticals industry of India. The proposal, I reckon, was there for quite some time though.

Which Ministries the DoP will have to co-ordinate with…the most?

As stated above let us have a look at the key areas of focus of the DoP, one by one and try to ascertain which Ministry currently deals with each one of these issues, as follows:

1. Pricing:

Currently DoP looks after ‘drugs pricing’ under the MC&F. This activity will remain unchanged in the new scenario.

2. ‘Access’ and ‘Availability’:

Availability of pharmaceuticals is intimately linked to access to pharmaceuticals… and access to pharmaceuticals to a vast majority of population of India depends on availability of requisite healthcare infrastructure. ‘Jan Aushadhi’ scheme of the DoP will be more meaningful in terms of its purpose and objectives, when adequate health related infrastructural facilities will be made available, in tandem, to the common man as a part of integrated healthcare initiative. Ministry of Health is responsible to create such healthcare related infrastructure.

3. IPR:

To give some examples, for the researched-based pharmaceutical companies, there are some burning pharmaceuticals related Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues, pending since long, like ‘Patent Linkage’ and ‘Regulatory Data Protection’ along with pharmaceuticals related other regulatory issues. All these are again currently looked after by the Ministry of Health.

4. International commitments:

International debate on ‘Counterfeit drugs’, ‘clinical trials’ etc is now spearheaded by the Ministry of Health.

Thus the objective of GoI to have greater focus on pharmaceuticals will be better achieved, if the DoP becomes a part of the Ministry of Health.

What should be the key objectives of the DoP?

The key objective of the DoP should be to “ensure access to affordable modern medicines to all”. To achieve this objective the mindset of the ministers and especially beaurocrats, should change from ‘empire building’ to serving the ‘common man’ with right earnest. With this change in the mindset, I hope that the DoP would try to align itself more with health than just chemicals.

If this happens, the newly created DoP will be able to deliver far more to the ‘common man’ and justify its creation and existence by spending huge amount of taxpayers’ money.

Yes Professor… you have a point:

A steep climb ahead on the ‘ghat’, compelled me to focus on driving. Meanwhile, noticing a long pause at my end, probably professor Gupta thought initially that I was inattentive to his first question… and like a thorough gentleman that he is, remained quiet. Time passed by, in pregnant silence, till I replied, “Yes professor you have a point” and then continued driving through the meandering ‘ghat’ road, in the sweltering heat of summer…still pondering why on earth our politicians still relate pharmaceuticals more to chemicals rather than health?

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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