The Bombay High Court on Tuesday questioned the Centre on how private individuals were buying Covid-19 drugs like remdesivir directly from manufacturers, reported Live Law. Pharmaceutical companies are expected to provide their entire stock to the Centre, which in turn distributes it to state governments.

The division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni also took note of the alleged distribution of over 10,000 vials of remdesivir by Ahmednagar MP after buying it from Delhi. Last week, Bharatiya Janata Party MP Sujay Vikhe Patil had procured and distributed 10,000 remdesivir injections.

“How can 10,000 vials be made available by airlifting them from Delhi by a chartered plane?” the court asked the Centre’s lawyer. “Would it not amount to private distribution by the person? Delhi itself is in crisis. We want the drugs to reach everyone who is needy and should not be only in the hands of a few.”

The court noted that its Aurangabad bench had already taken cognisance of the incident on Monday. A petition has been filed by four agriculturists before the Aurangabad bench, seeking registration of an first information report against Patil.

However, the court was informed that the incident was not a stray one. To this, the bench said, “If we find further such instances where pharmaceutical companies are providing remdesivir directly to private individuals, we may pass an injunction against them.”

The Bombay High Court also asked the state if a nodal officer was appointed for the distribution of remdesivir. When the state responded that it was yet to be done, the court observed. “Order was passed on April 27, we work beyond midnight to get it uploaded. How long does it take to provide a nodal agent and a 24/7 number?”

The court made the observations while hearing a public interest litigation filed by lawyer Sneha Marjadi. The petitioner has alleged improper management of the Covid-19 situation in Maharashtra, and sought directions to handle shortage of remdesivir and oxygen.

India is currently battling a second wave of the pandemic. Remdesivir is being used to treat critical coronavirus patients, even though medical opinion about its effectiveness has been mixed. Experts have warned that it’s no “silver bullet”. In November, the World Health Organization had issued a conditional recommendation against the use of remdesivir in hospitalised patients, saying there was no evidence that the drug improved survival and other outcomes.

But in the absence of any proven drug, doctors are increasingly prescribing it in India, driving its demand across the country. In recent weeks, social media has been flooded with desperate pleas to find access to remdesivir. The shortage of supply is also leading to the black-marketing of the drug.

A political slugfest also began on April 17 after Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Devendra Fadnavis and Pravin Darekar rushed to the Vile Parle police station in Mumbai as authorities were questioning a director of Bruck Pharma about a large consignment of remdesivir they said was being stored in the city. Fadnavis said that his party colleague Darekar had asked the Maharashtra Food and Drug administration to buy the drug from Bruck Pharma. But, Darekar claimed that the saffron party planned to buy 60,000 vials of the medicine for Rs 4.75 crore as a “noble gesture”.

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On ICU beds and crematoriums

During the hearing on Tuesday, the Bombay High Court also directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to inform it about the functioning of its helpline number for Covid bed management in hospitals. It also sought to know how the civic body can make sure that vacant beds were immediately reflected on the dashboard of BMC’s portal.

The bench asked the Maharashtra government to provide the status of crematoriums and morgues across the state. It also asked the state to list the measures taken to improve the conditions of crematoriums. “Crematorium system needs to be improved,” said the High Court. “We cannot have bodies lying at crematoriums for hours.”

The court will hear the matter again on Thursday.

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