NPPA Asks N95 Mask Manufacturers, Importers and Suppliers to Maintain Parity in Prices
Instead of capping price of N95 masks that are most required by healthcare professionals who are frontline fighters in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has asked makers, importers and suppliers of these masks to maintain parity in prices for all buyers.
 
In an office memorandum, Alok Ranjan, assistant director in the NPPA, which functions under the department of pharmaceuticals under the ministry of chemical and fertilizers, says, "...in order to ensure availability of N95 masks at affordable prices in the country, NPPA hereby directs manufacturers, importers and suppliers of the N95 masks to maintain parity in prices for non-government procurements and to make available the same at reasonable prices."
 
The Authority, however, failed to explain what is the reasonable price of N95 masks. 
 
As repeatedly pointed out by Moneylife, without any directive from the government, there is rampant black markereering and hoarding of N95 masks across the country. 
 
In fact, on Tuesday, the Bombay High Court (BHC) had 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 HC 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 13th May letter sent by the commissioner of Maharashtra food and drug administration (FDA) had requested the chairman of 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. 
 
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. 
 
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