The Indian Medical Association on Tuesday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to either prove or apologise for his alleged statement that top pharmaceutical companies bribe doctors with women, gadgets or foreign trips, The Hindu reported.

According to The Print, Modi met senior officials from top pharmaceutical companies, including Zydus Cadila, Torrent Pharmaceuticals and Wockhardt, in New Delhi on January 2. The meeting was set up after non-governmental organisation Support for Advocacy and Training to Health said in a report that medical representatives of drug makers use unethical marketing tactics to ingratiate themselves with doctors.

“Reports have appeared in the media regarding the purported statement by Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi that top pharmaceutical companies bribed doctors with women escorts,” said the Indian Medical Association, noting that the Prime Minister’s Office had not denied the report. “IMA takes strong exception to the statement if it has been really made by the prime minister.”

The association asked why the government chose to invite the pharmaceutical companies for a meeting rather than initiate criminal proceedings against them if it had details of the companies’ involvement in “supplying women to doctors”.

“It is imperative on the PMO now to release the names of the doctors convicted or otherwise,” the association said. “State medical councils should initiate appropriate action if the doctors have been convicted of moral turpitude.”

However, the medical body sounded sceptical about the government’s ability to prove the allegations. “If the surmise of the prime minister is based on unverified information, it is only appropriate that he apologises to the doctors of the country,” it added.

The Indian Medical Association claimed that the meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office seemed to be an attempt to divert attention from unresolved matters related to healthcare. It claimed that the government’s flagship healthcare programme Ayushman Bharat “is a non-starter and operates more in government hospitals where treatment is already free. The Modi government did not make any “new investment either in infrastructure or in human resources”, it added.

“The content and language of this nature coming from the PMO is shocking,” Indian Medical Association’s National President Rajan Sharma told The Telegraph. “This does not behove the PMO.”