The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court on Thursday strongly objected to the alleged distribution of over 10,000 vials of remdesivir by an Ahmednagar MP after buying it from Delhi. Noting that the antiviral injection is meant for needy coronavirus patients, the court said BJP leader Sujay Vikhe Patil’s action was wrong as this was “not a Robin Hood situation”, PTI reported.
Bharatiya Janata Party MP Sujay Vikhe Patil had procured and distributed 10,000 remdesivir injections, reportedly on April 19. Videos showing him unloading boxes of remdesivir from a chartered flight at the Shirdi airport went viral on April 24, after which four agriculturists sought criminal action against Vikhe Patil.
The court was told that 300 injections were handed over to the Ahmednagar district hospital while the rest, an undisclosed number, went to a trust in Shirdi. The court directed the district superintendent of police in Ahmednagar to trace the remdesivir boxes unloaded in Shirdi and submit a report by May 3, according to Live Law.
It also directed the state’s principal secretary (home) to provide details on the flights that landed and took off from the Shirdi airport between April 10 and April 25. “We would not tolerate any excuse of any [CCTV] footage being lost or the details of the landing and take-off of private flights not available,” the court said.
“A wrong path followed is ultimately termed as impropriety,” a division bench headed by Justice Ravindra Ghuge said. “Remdesivir injections are supposed to be used and distributed equally among all and not like this. We only want to know how he [Vikhe Patil] procured the vials? How did this man procure the Remdesivir vials surreptitiously and unofficially?”
While a lawyer representing some patients who were helped by Vikhe Patil tried to argue in favour of the Lok Sabha MP, the court refused to accept it. “We are sure lives were saved and the poor and needy benefitted by the actions of the MP,” the court said. “But this cannot be a Robin Hood situation where you steal from one group and distribute among another group.”
The court also pulled up the district administration in Ahmednagar for legitimising Vikhe Patil’s actions and defending them to the media.
“Though we are at this stage refraining from forming any final opinion and ordering investigation, we are of the prima facie view that the administration is trying to protect the MP,” the court said after the petitioners’ advocate told the court that Ahmednagar Collector Rajendra Bhosale had tole local press that the district hospital had requested Vikhe Patil to procure 1,700 vials of the drug.
“There seems to be some cover up operation,” the court said. “Why is the collector going to the press and giving a clean chit to the MP? This officer [collector] should be immediately transferred out of Ahmednagar. The collectors duty is towards the citizens or the MP?” A note from the collector told the court that the 1,700 vials came from Pune and not Delhi.
The court allowed the collector to file an affidavit on his stand but warned that if the local police don’t conduct an impartial inquiry into the matter, then it would not hesitate to bring in the CBI or the state CID. It will next hear the case on May 3.
The High Court had also taken note of the matter earlier this week and asked the Centre how private individuals were buying Covid-19 drugs like remdesivir directly from manufacturers. Pharmaceutical companies are expected to provide their entire stock to the Centre, which in turn distributes it to state governments.
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”.