Bombay HC Asks Union Govt to Respond Before Friday to Maharashtra FDA Letters on Fixing Price of N95 Masks
The Bombay High Court (BHC) on Tuesday asked additional solicitor general (ASG) Anil C Singh to take instructions from the Union government on capping prices for N95 masks and respond by Friday on two letters sent by Maharashtra government on the same subject. When the ASG informed the bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice SS Shinde that the government had already capped prices of two-ply, three-ply masks and hand sanitisers, the bench orally directed him to take instructions on what the central government has done regarding the representation sent by Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on prices of N95 masks.
 
The BHC also directed the Union government to act before Friday on two letters sent by Maharashtra government on 13th and 15 May 2020. The 13th May letter sent by the commissioner of Maharashtra food and drug administration (FDA) had requested the chairman of National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) to fix price for sale of N95 masks and personal protection equipment (PPE) kits. 
 
The second letter sent on 15 May 2020 by the Maharashtra FDA to the NPPA shares details of investigation carried out and reports the findings against four companies in the state. The joint commissioner’s response also includes the prices currently being offered by various manufacturers namely, Magnum (Rs250), Venus (Rs180) and 3M (Rs121 or Rs146 depending on the model no.) of N95 masks. The commissioner reinforces in his letter that while investigation in this matter is being carried out, the NPPA should expedite the pricing matter on top priority. 
 
Coming back to the BHC order, the bench was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Sucheta Dalal, founder-trustee of Moneylife Foundation and Anjali Damania, founder-trustee of Voice of Indian Taxpayers, a non-government organisation (NGO). 
 
The PIL sought relief from black marketeering, hoarding and profiteering of N95 masks in Maharashtra despite N95 masks being declared as essential commodity under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. The petition also alleged that Maharashtra state had failed to take adequate measures to ensure that sufficient availability of surgical masks and other masks at fair prices.
 
"While these N95 masks are being sold at marked up rates of over 150% by insidious dealers, the frontline workers do not have enough N95 masks and till date more than 800 frontline workers have tested COVID-19 positive mainly due to the lack of adequate protective gear including N95 masks," the PIL mentions. 
 
N95 masks or N95 respirators are particulate-filtering facepieces which filter at least 95% of airborne particles. The N95 mask requires a fine mesh of synthetic polymer fibers, also known as non-woven polypropylene fabric, which is produced through a process called melt blowing that forms the inner filtration layer that filters out hazardous particles. These masks provide protection against particulates but not against gases or vapours. Thus, these masks are ideal for use for frontline workers including healthcare workers who work in close proximity to the COVID-19 patients, as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) primarily spreads via respiratory droplets and particulates from cough, sneezes and talking.
 
As the number of confirmed cases grew, the demand for hand sanitizers and masks (including N95 masks) grew exponentially. On 13 March 2020, the union ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution issued an order for regulating production, quality, distribution, logistics of masks (two-ply, three-ply surgical masks and N95 masks) and hand sanitisers and further prevented hoarding, black marketing and profiteering on these items.
 
The ministry of chemical and fertilisers also passed an order on 13 March 2020 directing all state governments, union territories (UTs) and concerned state authorities to take necessary steps to ensure sufficient availability of surgical masks and other masks, hand sanitisers and gloves at prices not exceeding the maximum retail prices (MRP) printed on the pack size. 
 
However, despite these directives from the Union government, the state government in Maharashtra failed to take any measures to ensure sufficient availability of surgical masks and other masks, hand sanitisers and gloves at prices not exceeding the MRP.
 
During the current pandemic, a major issue that has come to the fore and has been reported widely in the media is the rising number of frontline workers including doctors, nurses, ward boys, police personnel and sanitation workers who have tested positive for COVID-19. According to the latest media reports more than 800 frontline health workers working in government and private hospitals in Mumbai have been infected with the virus.
 
The petition states, "These healthcare personnel who were forced to work without adequate protection PPE proceeded to seek help from NGOs and social workers as the state seemed incapable of providing them the required number of PPE including N95 masks. These medical personnel sought donations of PPE and N95 masks from the general public in order to allay the shortage that the government was not able to fulfil."
 
Moved by these calls for help, both Moneylife Foundation and Voice of Indian Taxpayers sought to acquire these PPE kits and N95 masks so that the same could be provided to the frontline workers. It is during this endeavour to acquire these protective kits and N95 masks for our frontline workers that Ms Dalal and Ms Damania, the petitioners, were shocked to witness rampant black marketeering and profiteering in N95 masks and the abject failure of the state machinery to implement the order dated 13 March 2020 passed under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.
 
When the two NGOs sought to acquire the N95 masks so that the same could be supplied largely to government, municipal and charitable hospitals or those designated for COVID-19 treatment, they realised that there are two companies producing N95 or equivalent masks around Mumbai. One was Venus Safety and Health Pvt Ltd at Taloja Industrial Area and Magnum Health and Safety Pvt Ltd near Palghar. When the NGOs approached these manufacturers to acquire N95 masks, they were informed that the entire production of the N95 masks was being acquired by the government and, hence, there was no stock left for dissemination to the consumers and refused to accept the purchase requests. 
 
In the meanwhile, the Maharashtra government brought N95 masks needed to be approved by the state government’s Haffkine Institute. Eventually Venus Safety and Health agreed to provide 5,000 and 3,200 N95 masks to these two NGOs at Rs40 + GST and Rs60 + GST per mask, respectively. 
 
When both Moneylife Foundation and Voice of Indian Taxpayers again approached Venus Safety and Health for more N95 masks so that they could in turn be provided to the frontline workers, they were informed that no orders would be accepted as all of their production was booked. 
 
The company claimed that their entire production had been taken over by the government and refused to accept the NGOs purchase orders. After this, both Moneylife Foundation and Voice of Indian Taxpayers along with seven other NGOs wrote to Maharashtra chief secretary to bring to his notice the non-availability of N95 masks. 
 
The petitioners Ms Dalal and Ms Damania assumed that all the N95 masks that were being produced by these two manufacturers were being acquired by the Union government and Maharashtra government and thus, these companies had no stock to sell to them. 
 
But, to their shock and surprise soon after the petitioners were stonewalled by Venus Safety and Health, they started receiving unsolicited messages from multiple dealers and traders offering to sell to N95 masks at a mark-up of over 150%. The petitioners were flooded with WhatsApp messages, along with photographic proof of availability of stocks of N95 masks being manufactured by Venus Safety and Health. These messages were accompanied by videos showcasing proof of stock, some of the dealers were ready to provide as many as one lakh N95 masks at the price of Rs210 and GST. These dealers were selling N95 masks produced by both Venus Safety and Health and Magnum Health and Safety. 
 
Appalled by the blatant and out in the open profiteering on N95 masks especially when the healthcare workers and essential service-providers were forced to work without these essential protective equipment, the petitioners did some probe. The essential question that came to light is if the entirety of the stock of Venus Safety and Health was being acquired by the government as the company had informed then where had these dealers acquired their stocks of lakhs of N-95 masks and more troublingly how were they replenishing the said stock?
 
Eventually, Ms Dalal and Ms Damania found that not only were the said masks freely available at a marked up price in the black market, but that the prices at which they were sold the N95 masks (Rs40 and Rs60, excluding GST) by Venus Safety and Health, were also considerably higher than the price at which the company had sold the same N95 masks to Haffkine Bio Pharmaceutical Corp Ltd on 28 January 2020. The petitioner learnt that Venus Safety and Health had sold 92,500 masks to the Haffkine at just Rs17.33 per mask.
 
"These acts of hoarding and profiteering has worsened an already dire situation. While our frontline workers are forced to perform their duties without adequate protective gear and mask. A scarcity of protective gear is being compounded further by hoarders and profiteers seeking to make a windfall by jeopardizing the health of crores of people," Ms Dalal and Ms Damania had contended in the PIL.
 
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    COMMENTS

    gopaliyer1950

    4 months ago

    Why legal action not taken against these 2 companies as also the retailers who can sell upto 1 lac masks at prohibitive prices

    jaczacha

    4 months ago

    Common people who are not connected with health care work do not need N95 masks.They are exclusively for health care workers.

    shirish.s

    4 months ago

    Madam Dalal and Madam Damania have done an excellent job to get N95 masks to frontline COVID workers at a reasonable price.
    A lot of follow up has to be done by them, till proper order comes from Central Government's concerned authorities.










    Vivek Sethia

    4 months ago

    Crazy but something happens everyday around us.
    We have to believe that the guys involved don\'t belive that they can face something like this throughout their life and that gives them enough freedom to do what appeals to them, irrecp3ftice of the outcome or implications. Not to forget our system has been cooperative and conducive enough for such breeds to flourish

    Medics Disappointed with Vew COVID-19 Advisory for Health Workers
    Many resident doctors' associations in the national capital have expressed their dissatisfaction with the latest advisory issued by the Union health ministry recently for healthcare workers (HCW) working in COVID and non-COVID areas of hospitals.
     
    According to the advisory issued by the ministry of health and family Won 15th May, only those HCW who are at high risk of exposure will be quarantined and regular quarantine of healthcare workers after performing duty in COVID-19 areas is not warranted, unless they meet the stipulated criteria. The advisory said only those HCW who are providing care to a COVID-19 case or lab worker handling respiratory specimens from COVID-19 cases without recommended PPE or with possible breach of PPE or working without mask and goggles or face-shield, are considered as high risk exposure case.
     
    Dr Manish, president of resident Doctors Association of Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital told IANS that the association has written to health secretary Preeti Sudan regarding the advisory and has urged that the resident doctors should be provide at least seven days' quarantine so that at least their COVID-19 test report is also procured by then.
     
    "Since many resident doctors have family and relatives susceptible to COVID-19, it creates a fear in them of transmission of disease to their relatives. It is for this reason we want hotel accommodation for quarantine purpose for at least 7 days till the time their report comes," Dr Manish told IANS.
     
    Similarly, Dr Parv Mittal, President of Resident Doctors Association of LNJP Hospital in Delhi, expressed his disappointment about the advisory. Speaking to IANS, Dr Mittal said, "The government perceives the 2 week post-duty quarantine as an ‘undue luxury' and accommodation expense as an ‘unnecessary expenditure'. But without quarantine there is a high chance of infection spreading to fellow doctors and other health care workers.
     
    "The guideline relies on a rationale that only those HCWs who got exposed to COVID positive patients without proper PPE have a chance of infection. There are multiple faults in this rationale: Firstly, there have been multiple cases of doctors catching infection despite proper usage of PPE. Secondly, working conditions in the hospitals and PPE quality provided, are far from ideal."
     
    Dr Shivaji Dev Barman, President of Federation of Resident Doctors Association (FORDA) also said that the association wrote to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan regarding the concerns of the healthcare workers, as reported by IANS on Monday.
     
    Dr Barman said, "Risk of exposure among HCWs is high. Since the virus has an incubation period of 14 days and there are many asymptomatic patients who are testing positive, quarantine along with adequate testing is essential for doctors following COVID duty. The virus has high infectivity and an infected doctor might put his or her close contacts like family members and colleagues, at risk."
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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    COVID-19: Pricing of N95 Masks being Investigated, after Complaint
    The Maharashtra food and drug administration (FDA) has conducted investigations on the black marketing of N95 masks only to find out that there is no fixed price for these life-saving masks. A letter from joint commissioner of FDA points out that the Union government has not formulated any policy for the price of N95 mask. In other words, this means there is no maximum retail price (MRP) for the N95 mask that are in huge demand due to coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 
     
    Activist Anjali Damania, who heads an NGO, Voice of Indian Taxpayers, had written a letter complaining to the state FDA along with the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) in this regard and now it appears, that the FDA has taken some action in response to the complaint.
     
    A few days ago Moneylife had reported on the pricing scam of N95 masks and how the government needed to step in to fix prices and put an end to black market pricing of N95 masks. 
     
    A response letter from JN Mantri, joint commissioner of Maharashtra FDA, explains that an investigation was carried out and reports the findings against each company investigated. One of the companies – ‘Science House’, and its four godown premises were investigated and found to “possess small quantity of masks manufactured by 3M and Venus.” This company failed to produce any receipts for the purchase of these masks giving an excuse of it being under lockdown and having no access to the sales records.
     
    There was also a similar investigation carried out at Pari Enterprises to reveal that the company had purchased 5000 N95 masks at a rate of Rs205 plus GST per piece. The invoice provided by this company made no mention of the MRP of these masks and the investigators were also unable to deduce the same from their inspection. In their response to the complaint, the FDA reports that even the manufacturer – Venus, has failed to mention the MRP of its V-4420 masks in their product images or videos.
     
    The letter further mentions that a visit was made to the manufacturing plant of Venus Safety and Health for an inspection on 11 May 2020, and a note explaining their findings has been provided from the Assistant Commissioner, FDA, Raigad. This note lists down the prices (as of 13 May 2020) that the company offers for its products to non-state, state and central purchasers. At first glance, it is clear that there is no clear fixed MRP in place. The note concludes saying, “til date Central Government do not formulate any policy regarding the price of mask N95.”
     
    The joint Commissioner’s response to Ms Damania’s complaint also includes the prices currently being offered by various manufacturers namely, Magnum (Rs250), Venus (Rs180) and 3M (Rs121 or Rs146 depending on the model no.) of N95 masks. The commissioner reinforces in his letter that while investigation in this matter is being carried out, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority should expedite the pricing matter on top priority. 
     

     

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