A political battle broke out in Maharashtra on Saturday as Bharatiya Janata Party leader Devendra Fadnavis went to Vile Parle police station as the authorities were questioning a director of a Daman-based pharmaceutical company about a large consignment of the antiviral drug remdesivir they said was being stored in the city.

States such as Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat have complained about a shortage of the drug, which is being used to treat critical coronavirus patients, even though medical opinion about its effectiveness has been mixed.

The Mumbai Police said that the executive of Bruck Pharma had been called in for questioning with relation to allegations that the consignment was going to be sent abroad, despite the government banning its export due to the shortage in India, The Indian Express reported.

The executive was allowed to leave after 45 minutes but BJP leaders Devendra Fadnavis and Praveen Darekar went to the Vile Parle police station to speak to officials about the matter. Fadnavis said that four days ago, Darekar and Prasad Lal, another BJP leader, had gone to Daman and asked Bruck Pharma to supply remdesivir to Maharashtra because the state was facing a shortage.

“Bruck Pharma said they could produce the drug but could not supply it without the government’s permission,” Fadnavis told reporters. “Then I spoke to Union minister Mansukh Mandaviya and arranged for the required permission.”

Darekar said that the BJP had wanted to distribute the drug through the state government, the Indian Express reported. “As a noble gesture we decided to foot the entire cost of Rs 4.75 crore,” he said. “Fadnavis was to hand over the remdesivir stock to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.”

He claimed that the BJP had even informed Maharashtra Food and Drugs Administration Minister Rajendra Shingne about the development.

Fadnavis said that the Bruck Pharma official had been detained by 10 police officers. “We showed the police the permission letter,” Fadnavis said, according to ANI. “Deputy Commissioner of Police Manjunath Singe said it wasn’t communicated to them earlier.”

The police officer denied that the Bruck Pharma official was arrested, and said that he was only summoned for an inquiry amidst the widespread black-marketing of the drug, according to ANI.

Last week, the Centre had decided to ramp up the production of remdesivir and reduce its price amid the surge in coronavirus cases in the country.

We acted in good faith, say Mumbai Police

The Mumbai Police said on Sunday that they had called in the director of Bruck Pharma for questioning after receiving information about 60,000 vials of the drug being stocked by a pharmaceutical company, ANI reported. A team from the Food and Drug Administration was also present at the police station.

Around 11.15 pm, BJP leaders Devendra Fadnavis, Praveen Darekar, Parag Alavani and Prasad Lad visited the police station, the police said. Fadnavis asked why Bruck Pharma’s director was brought in for questioning. He also informed the police that permission had been taken from the Food and Drug Administration commissioner to “donate remedesivir vials to the Maharashtra government as remedesivir stocked for export, cannot be diverted to the domestic market without permission from the Drugs Controller General of India or FDA”, the Mumbai police said.

The police said that this communication from the Food and Drug Administration to the pharmaceutical company was not shared with them and so the director of Bruck Pharma was called in. “Mumbai Police acted in good faith,” the statement said.

“This inquiry was necessary in the light of complaints of rampant hoarding and black marketing of remdesivir and shortage being faced by citizens,” the statement said, adding that the BJP leaders were informed that strict action would be taken against people illegally hoarding the drug.

‘Cheap politics’: Politicians criticise BJP, Fadnavis

Priyanka Chaturvedi, an MP for the Shiv Sena, which rules Maharashtra in a coalition that includes the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress, accused Fadnavis of “hoarding an emergency drug”.

“If this isn’t backstabbing the people of Maharashtra for his cheap politics then what is?” she said in a tweet. “A leader of opposition is hoarding an emergency drug procured secretly and when seized, fights with Mumbai Police. Shame Mr Fadnavis. Your midnight shenanigans were exposed once and now again.”

State Congress leader Sachin Sawant said that it was “absolutely astonishing” to see Fadnavis and Darekar put pressure on the police for a businessman. “What is the fault of [the] police?” he asked. “They had intelligence that a large stock of 60,000 vials of remdesivir is hiding with exporters of Brook Laboratories which is not reported.”

In a series of tweets, Sawant said that companies needed to inform the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation and the state Food and Drug Administration about the details of the stock with them following the Centre’s ban on the export of the drug. “Mumbai police had called [the] director for inquiry but he kept evading,” he said. “After 2 days he came. But BJP leaders became so upset that they personally rushed for his support.” He asked if the BJP leaders would take such steps for the common people.

Aam Aadmi Party leader Preeti Sharma Menon alleged that the Centre gave Bruck Pharma permission to sell remdesivir locally and then the BJP bought the drug from the company, reported PTI.

“It is illegal for a political party to buy drugs, medicines or any other articles for the purpose of donation,” she said in a statement. “The shroud of charity can easily be used to bribe citizens, hence our Constitution and the Representation of the People Act 1951 have explicitly stated that political parties cannot do charity.”

Menon noted that Fadnavis had openly stated that the BJP bought the drug for charity and said action should be taken against him, the BJP and its office-bearers for this “illegal act”.

“It is not beyond imagination that the purpose of buying this large quantity of stock was for hoarding and denying it to citizens,” Menon added in a statement. “This act tantamounts to murder and the AAP demands that the chief minister investigate this action fairly and publicly.”