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Remdesivir politics: War of words between MVA, BJP; Pharma co director denies stocking vials


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MUMBAI: Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole on Tuesday asked whether the Centre was responsible for two firms, selected for supplying Remdesivir, later expressing inability to meet the state's demand.

Shortage of Remdesivir, a drug used to treat COVID-19 patients in certain cases, has become the subject of a bitter political row between the state and the Centre.

"The Maharashtra government's tender for supply of eight lakh injections of Remdesivir was awarded to two companies and the state was to get 50,000 vials a day starting tomorrow," Patole told reporters.

"But now these companies have communicated to the state that they can not supply so many vials. They can supply only a few thousand, they have informed," he said.

"Is the Centre behind these companies drastically dropping their supply quantity? Is the Centre putting people's lives in danger just to defame the Maharashtra government?" the Congress leader asked.

State health minister Rajesh Tope and Food and Drug Administration minister Rajendra Shingane few days ago had assured that supply of Remdesivir will increase from April 21.

The state was currently facing a shortage of around 10,000 vials a day, they had said.

Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik on Tuesday alleged that former BJP MLA from north Maharashtra Shirish Chaudhari illegally distributed to people Remdesivir vials which had not been exported due to a ban on it.

However, the BJP dismissed the allegation as baseless.

Talking to reporters here, Malik said the Centre has banned the export of Remdesivir and one of its manufacturers is Bruck Pharma, a Daman-based company.

"How could BJP leader Shirish Chaudhari store around 20,000 vials of the exportable Remdesivir stock of Bruck Pharmaand distribute them to people? They don't have a licence to do so," the NCP spokesperson said.

Malik said Chaudhari had allegedly distributed and sold the Remdesivir stock in black markets in Nandurbar, Dhule and Jalgaon districts.

"Some videos have surfaced in which Chaudhari is allegedly seen distributing Remdesivir vials in Nandurbar from his Hira Executive Hotel. We believe Chaudhari sold around 20,000 vials, which were produced by Bruck Pharma, in the black market on April 8 and 12," Malik alleged.

He said Anil Patil, the NCP MLA from Amalner in Jalgaon, had complained against Chaudhari (who contested the 2019 Assembly poll against Patil) in a letter to the party.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner has written a letter to Nandurbar collector, asking him to conduct a probe into Chaudhari's alleged connection with the distribution of Remdesivir vials without a proper licence, Malik said.

The Remdesivir vials of Bruck Pharma had 'export only' written on the packets, then how could Chaudhari get hold of the stock? the NCP leader sought to know.

"What licence was obtained by Chaudhari from Maharashtra or the Union Territory of Daman?" he asked.

Malik claimed that Chaudhari along with Leader of Opposition in the state Legislative Council Pravin Darekar had met FDA Minister Rajendra Shingane to seek permission for the Bruck Pharma to sell its Remdesivir stock in Maharashtra.

However, Darekar termed Malik's allegations as "baseless" and said FDA minister Shingane has admitted that the Bruck Pharma's Remdesivir vials were to be sold in Maharashtra only.

"It is a tight slap on the face of the Maharashtra government which is trying to defame the Centre by spreading misinformation on Remdesivir supply," he said.

Darekar said Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, Maharashtra minister Ashok Chavan, state Congress chief Nana Patole and senior party leader Priyanka Gandhi should apologise to the BJP for making "baseless" allegations.

The BJP leader also said he has demanded details of the hoarding of Remdesivir stock, as alleged by Malik.

"From day one, we have been telling people that the Remdesivir stock from Bruck Pharma is meant for Maharashtra and it is going to be distributed in the state only," he said.

A meeting had taken place at FDA minister Shingane's official residence here and he gave permission to the Bruck Pharma to supply its drug stock in the state, Darekar said.

"However, when the state government realised that Remdesivir was going to be made available because of some BJP leaders, the government's ego was hurt. This government now appears to be more concerned about its ego than the lives of people or the betterment of infrastructure," he claimed.

The Bruck Pharma director, who was questioned by Mumbai police over the company's Remdesivir stock, has denied stocking the vials in the city and claimed the consignment has been moved to a godown in Daman, a police official said on Tuesday.

Remdesivir is listed for use in serious COVID-19 patients.

In view of a sudden spike in demand of the drug due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, the Centre last week banned its export till the situation improves.

The Mumbai police on Saturday questioned Rajesh Dokania, the director of the Daman-based pharmaceutical company that manufactures Remdesivir vials, following information that around 60,000 vials were going to be flown abroad by air cargo, despite a ban on the export of the drug.

During his questioning, the police sought to know the whereabouts of the drug stock, the official said.

"The pharma company director claimed the stock was moved to the firm's godown in the neighbouring Union Territory of Daman as its export was banned and denied stocking the vials in Mumbai," the official said.

The police are verifying the information provided by the pharma firm executive, he said.

Dokania was questioned at the BKC police station here and was later allowed to go.

But, the police asked him to remain present for inquiry whenever he is called.

On learning that Dokania was being quizzed, Fadnavis and another state BJP leader Pravin Darekar had rushed to the police station on Saturday night.

They said the BJP was reaching out to pharma companies due to the shortage of Remdesivir in the state.

"It was our sincere attempt to get Remdesivar for Maharashtra," Fadnavis had said.

The former CM had also said permission was taken from the FDA commissioner to donate the stock of Remdesevir vials to the Maharashtra government, as the drug stocked for export cannot be diverted to the domestic market without the nod of the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) or the FDA.

The communication from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the pharmaceutical company was not shared with the BKC police station, which was acting independently on the information available with them, a Mumbai police spokesperson had said.

The pharma company director was called for an inquiry in order to trace and seize about 60,000 vials of the key anti-viral drug based on a specific inputs, the police said.

The inquiry was necessary in light of complaints of rampant hoarding and black marketing of Remdesevir and its shortage being faced by citizens, they said.

(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)