Indore-based Swasthya Adhikar Manch has alleged that illegal drug trials have been conducted and without the approval of the drug controller. This shows a serious lack of transparency, accountability and monitoring of clinical trials
Hearing a writ petition against the rampant illegal and unethical drug trials conducted in India, the Supreme Court has expressed serious concern over the issue and has asked government to take corrective measures. The bench of justices RM Lodha and HL Gokhale granted further time of six weeks time to Medical Council of India, the Madhya Pradesh government, along with ministry of health and family affairs, to file their reply.
A petition was filed by Indore-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), Swasthya Adhikar Manch (SAM), seeking an inquiry into alleged illegal clinical trials of untested drugs in various states of the country on adults, children and even mentally ill persons in this country. It has also stated that there are increasing numbers of deaths occurring during these trials. According to the petitioner some of the trails have been conducted without the approval of the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI).
While hearing the petition, the bench observed that, “This is very unfortunate. The government of India must take corrective steps.”
“The Union minister of health and family welfare in a recent answer on 13th March to a question in Rajya Sabha pointed out that during the last three years—2009, 2010 and 2011—a total of 1,229 trials were conducted in which 1,743 deaths occurred in and 2,163 deaths in the last five years, as per data collected from the Rajya Sabha and RTI (Right to Information) documents. It was also mentioned that only in 22 cases of death in 2010, the compensation has been paid by sponsors/clinical research organizations,” SAM said in a statement.
The court has also granted SAM time to file a rejoinder affidavit. SAM, in a statement, said that, “The counsel for Swasthya Adhikar Manch, Sanjay Parikh, pointed out that it has been acknowledged by the minister of health and family affairs that illegal trials have been conducted and some of them are even without approval of the DCGI. He also mentioned that no ‘placebo trials’ should be conducted in the country. The judges remarked that the situation is serious and deaths are taking place”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has refused the plea of India Society of Clinical Research (ISCR) wanting to impleaded in the case. The apex court sought information about its legal status for operating in the country.
The NGO in a statement said that, “The Hon’ble judges remarked that the situation is serious and deaths are taking place. On the application for impleadment filed on behalf of ISCR, the Supreme Court sought information about its legal status for operating in the country. The counsel for the petitioner pointed out that contract research organizations outsource and offshore the clinical trials on behalf of the multinational drug companies and ensure one window solutions for getting approval from the DCGI.”
According to SAM, “Not only the most essential principle of inform consent is rampantly violated, but the conflict of interest is clearly visible in these clinical trials. This shows that there is serious lace of transparency, accountability and monitoring (during clinical trial and thereafter) which is resulting in conduct of the clinical trials illegally and at the cost of health and human lives.”
Goldman Sachs executives invariably described their clients as ‘muppets’, a disparaging term equivalent to ‘bakras’ in Hindi. Indian banks seem to have similar attitude to their customers, according to this first-hand account
I am a “classic customer” (whatever that means) of HDFC Bank. On 22nd February, I got a message from the bank saying that I had withdrawn a certain amount of money from an ATM on 31st January. This was strange because normally one gets such a message immediately after using the card and that is most welcome and efficient way of doing things.
The card number in the message was correct but I had not drawn the money. I checked to make sure that the amount, which was substantial, had not been debited to my account. I enquired with my “personal banker”. (I do not understand this concept of personal banker, but more about that later.)
When I called her about my problem, she said it was a system error and if the amount had not debited to the account, there was nothing to be worried about. This attitude tells you how much a bank cares for you. She also said that she would take it up with the concerned department. When I got no feedback from her, I wrote to the MD of the bank.
I immediately got a call from a senior officer from my branch expressing regret for the message. She also admitted that the matter is serious and such a thing should not have happened. I also got a mail from the MD’s office expressing deep regret and once again blaming the technology. The bank also complimented me for having taken the trouble of bringing this to their notice and how helpful I had been!
My question is why does the bank not realise that its system is malfunctioning and causing trouble to its customers? I wrote to the MD’s office saying that the excuse of technology being the culprit is unacceptable. Banks these days try and hide their inefficiencies behind the technology that they chose and implement. My second mail has not been answered till date. However this incident raises more concerns.
My big problem now is: What if the bank debits the said amount on a later date, saying that the technology had failed and the amount was debited by mistake to someone else’s account and that the mistake is rectified now? What do I do if this happens? To this there is no answer.
The second incident happened with the same bank. I got a message that there was an amount outstanding in my demat account; that I must regularize the account immediately and that I should contact their nearest branch. My demat account is linked to my savings account and all charges are directly debited to that account. The amount involved was very small and hence the possibility that my account did not have sufficient balance was most unlikely.
The next day I got a message to ignore the message sent the day earlier and expressing regret if any inconvenience was caused. I think apologizing with such phrases is an absolute insult... Once again the explanation was glitch in technology!
I can understand such messages going to customers who do not have sufficient balance in their accounts. Subsequently I found out that many demat holders of the bank had received this same message on the same day.
The third incident was with IDBI bank. I wanted to transfer money from a savings account to an FD. I did the transaction online and I was told I will get the FD receipt by post. However, I realised that the amount was not even debited to my savings account. I went to the branch and asked why this has happened.
I was told the system does not accept transactions in joint accounts! The banks themselves rightly advise customers to have joint accounts as far as possible and to have nominees for all accounts. I was informed the system is designed like this and so the FD was not created!
This is ridiculous. The process did not ask me whether I wanted to make the FD in a single account or a joint account. Since my savings account is a joint E or S (either or survivor) account the FD should have been on a joint account unless instructed otherwise.
I spoke to someone I know in the bank. I was told that the bank would have to make changes in the system. Only the IT company could do that and the bank would have to pay. I was also informed that such changes have been carried out by another which uses the same software!
I think many people suffer such cruel jokes from most banks. Private sector and foreign banks, which are so proud about their “superior technology”, are the worst offenders.
I go back to this concept of personal banker. The lady designated as my personal banker once called me and said she would like to meet me. I went to the branch and asked why she wanted to meet me.
She said she could offer me many products. I said I do not need that advice since I am convinced that young bankers these days hardly understand banking. I am not willing to take investment advice from such people. Then she asked me to at least invest in an FD through her. I told her I can make an FD online. Why do I need her for this?
If the customer does not need them, why create personal bankers at all?
When such a currency note pops out at you from an ATM, you can do nothing about it. Take it back into the bank branch, the staff with write ‘FAKE’ or similar on it in thick marker ink, indelible, and you are on your way, poorer but not wiser. The RBI has to be much more proactive to stop the menace
The rapid expansion of the 24x7 ATM (automated teller machine) network for cash disbursement has been a great boon. It has proved to be greatly beneficial to people as it reached out to Indians and India across all social and economic categories. No more surly bank tellers; no more borrowing money till the bank re-opens, and certainly no more pulling out cash and keeping it in safe custody for exigencies. There is an ATM everywhere—the most amazing one, at the entry to a forest reserve. Out in the middle of almost nowhere, a 24x7 ATM ready to provide cash to those who would need it.
But Eden always ends up having a snake, and in this case it is the rising incidence of counterfeit currency popping out from unguarded and unregulated cash dispensers, something which is considered heresy and absolutely impossible in developed countries. The reason is simple. By and large, modern ATMs have, for the past few decades now, operated on a simple principle—they simply shut down if they dispense fake currency.
In some cases, not only do they shut down, they also automatically summon the law enforcement agencies. In the case of counterfeit currency, this is considered as important as protecting the life of the president, for example, in the US. It is the same agency, the “Secret Service”, which is assigned both roles, such is the importance given to this function, safeguarding currency’s provenance at all costs.
Here in India, however, it appears that this is not the case. I am writing this from Goa, where every shopkeeper, restaurant owner and what we would call “general public” has more than a few tales of being stuck with counterfeit currency. Some of the fakes are really amateur stuff, but others, which have been around for some time, and have generated their warnings in terms of serial numbers, are impossible to detect. ‘FICN’ (fake Indian currency note) appears to have a life of its own.
And when such a currency note pops out at you from an ATM, you can do nothing about it. Take it back into the bank branch, the staff with write ‘FAKE’ or similar on it in thick marker ink, indelible, and you are on your way, poorer but not wiser.
I have been able to discuss this in great detail with middle-level bank staff across the country, and what I learn is shocking. It appears as though the quiet unwritten rule is for bank staff to discreetly get rid of known FICN that may have entered their ‘system’ by loading it into ATMs, and then deny things vigorously if an alert customer brings up the issue.
Having researched this subject for years now, I have learnt that:
# There is no real 100% or even random checking of currency when it is accepted at bank branches. Moneylife has written about this before. (Counterfeit currency—the new pandemic) It gets even worse as you head away from the metro cities—where tellers and accountants appear to have hardly any training or knowledge on the subject.
# The currency thus collected is often bundled up, counted, and then retained in the branch or sent to bigger branch offices or Reserve Bank of India (RBI) currency chests or equivalent. No real check on the FICN is introduced at this juncture.
# The same currency is then used for stuffing ATMs, often from the bank branch itself, where there never was any machine to check FICN anyways. This also ensures wider dispersal of FICN, thereby hiding its origins.
All this is from ATMs which are owned and operated by banks. Matters are bad enough here, especially when you as a consumer use the ATM of another bank or branch which is not your ‘home’ branch/bank.
But it gets worse. Now comes the news that non-banks will soon be permitted to operate ATMs. Referred to in the trade as “white ATMs”, there will be private entrepreneurs who will operate such machines. (Read more: White label ATMs proposed by RBI — need to make them safe and user friendly)
What are the safeguards here? Who is monitoring the provenance of the currency notes being dispensed, what is the need for ‘white’ ATMs? No answers. Who will you complain to and in what way, when you get a fake note? Again, no answer.
It is high time the RBI took a serious look at things, instead of pointing towards the Indian Penal Code and its archaic provisions on fake currency notes and took some pro-active steps. In the first instance, ATMs of all sorts, bank-owned or white, need to simply shut down the moment they detect a FICN. This may certainly cause widespread problems in the early stages, but the issue here is simple—as an Indian, I deserve nothing less.
Currency notes in India are not confetti for a Monopoly game. We deserve better treatment, this new technology called ‘ATM’ was designed to serve us, not loot us.
(Veeresh Malik had a long career in the Merchant Navy, which he left in 1983. He has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, loves to travel, and has been in print and electronic media for over two decades. After starting and selling a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing.)