The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Gujarat unit chief CR Paatil last week announced the free distribution of 5,000 doses of the Remdesivir drug in his hometown of Surat amid a shortage of the medicine, leading to a controversy, The Indian Express reported on Monday.

Remdesivir, which is used to treat critical patients suffering from Covid-19, can only be supplied in hospitals and by pharmacists upon the prescription of a doctor treating the virus. In June, the Drug Controller General of India had cleared Remdesivir for restricted use in an emergency situation. Amid the rise in demand for the drug, the Centre on Sunday banned its export indefinitely.

Ahmedabad-based pharmaceutical company Zydus Cadila has been selling Remdesivir injections through its hospitals at a subsidised rate since April 5, and had plans to do so till Monday. However, on Friday, Zydus said that it had run out of stock and would not able to provide the drug until further notice, The Indian Express reported.

But the same day, Paatil announced the free distribution of 5,000 injections of the drug in Surat. BJP offices in Surat began distributing the injections on Saturday, The Hindu reported.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, on being questioned on the matter, said: “Ask him [Paatil] how he has managed to get the stock.”

So, the next day, Gujarat-based daily Divya Bhaskar published Paatil’s phone number as its front-page headline, urging readers to seek a response from the BJP leader. “Despite standing in line for hours, people are not getting Remdesivir injections, so how did BJP President CR Paatil get 5,000 injections,” the newspaper asked. “The government must respond.”

Meanwhile, the Gujarat BJP defended Paatil. “As per the instructions of our president, local traders bought [the drug] in whichever available quantity on their own, from Gujarat and outside,” the party’s media convener Yagnesh Dave said on Sunday, according to The Indian Express.

Paatil himself changed his statement on how he had managed to procure the drug. On Friday, he had said that the BJP had arranged to buy 5,000 injections from Zydus. However, on Saturday, speaking on the sidelines of a party event, he said the party was only “supplementing the distribution”, and the injections were bought by “friends”.

Gujarat HC files PIL on coronavirus situation

Meanwhile, the Gujarat High Court on Sunday initiated a public interest litigation taking suo motu cognisance of the pandemic situation in the state, PTI reported. The plea was filed based on media reports, which, the court observed, indicated that the state was heading towards a “health emergency of sorts”.

Chief Justice Vikram Nath said that the volume of reports in newspapers having nationwide circulation cannot be ignored, Bar and Bench reported.

“The newspapers, news channels are flooded with the harrowing tales, unfortunate and unimaginable difficulties, unmanageable conditions of the infrastructure, the shortfall and the deficit of not only testing, availability of beds and ICU [Intensive Care Unit], but also supply of oxygen and the basic medicines like Remdesivir,” the court order on the plea noted.

The petition will be heard on Monday by a division bench comprising Nath and Justice Bhargav D Karia.