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Deadlock over drugs act persists aschemists hold protest

By Amer Malik
April 30, 2018

LAHORE: Deadlock over the proposed amendments to the Punjab Drugs (Amendments) Act 2017 persists as Punjab government is going to introduce the draft bill with changes in ‘controversial amendments’ without taking the stakeholders into confidence, purposefully.

The representatives of chemists, wholesalers, retailers, distributors as well as manufacturers and other representatives of pharmaceutical companies have announced holding a massive protest demonstration in Lahore on Monday (today) against what they called ‘draconian amendments’ in the Drugs Act 1976 to make manufacturers and traders of medicines scapegoats in the province.

Meanwhile, the owners of drugstores, except chain pharmacies, were keeping their businesses closed on the fourth day on Sunday for fulfillment of their demand of withdrawal of controversial amendments to the drug act. Meanwhile, the Punjab government has sent a summary incorporated with changes in the earlier amendments for approval by the Punjab Assembly to pass a law for implementation in the province. Earlier, Punjab government has decided to amend the Drugs Act, 1976 and its application to the extent of province of the Punjab for control and eradication of spurious, adulterated, unregistered and substandard drugs. Earlier, the Punjab Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 has been promulgated after the approval of Provincial Assembly and the Punjab governor. However, strong reservations were expressed by the manufacturers/retailers on proposed amendments. In this connection, a fresh round of meeting was held on 26.04.2018 at 180-H Model Town, Lahore, and was attended by following government officials along with representatives of Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association and other stakeholders chemists/distributors/wholesalers’ associations.

Attended by Punjab Minister and Secretary of Specialized Healthcare and Medical Education Department, Minister and Secretary of Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department, Minister Excise and Taxation Mian Mujtaba Shuja Ur Rehman, Punjab Chief Secretary, Secretary Law, Secretary Services, Secretary Prosecution, ex-VC University of Health Sciences Dr Faisal Masood and Director General Punjab Forensic Science Agency and representatives of pharmaceutical companies and chemists, it was decided that, based upon deliberations, the draft amendments in the Punjab Drugs Amendment Act 2017 has been placed at Annex-IV.

The summary is being routed through Law Department for converting these amendments in form of a bill. It was recommended that the chief minister may approve the proposed amendments as at Annex IV, seek approval of the draft bill from cabinet, introduction of draft Bill at Provincial Assembly during current session. Meanwhile, the representatives of the chemists/distributors/wholesalers’ associations rejected the changes in the amendments, and vowed to resist the passage of the bill from the Punjab Assembly without the satisfaction of the real stakeholders. “We had given April 25 deadline to withdraw the controversial amendments but it had not been done,” said Nisar Chaudhry, representative of Chemists Association/Lohari Medicine Market.

While presenting the demands, he said, the manufacturers and traders’ community now demanded restoration of Drugs Act 1976 in its original form and withdrawal of Schedule G. The Schedule G, he said, restricts sale of medicines by Category-A traders, while allowing grace period of six years to Category-B drugstores’ owners – a ‘concession’ that can be struck down with a stroke of pen any time. Furthermore, he said that licences of medical stores’ owners should be restored in original form, saying that the government was trying to deceive the traders by imposing conditions prepared in 2007 on licences issued in 1988. “Any conditions or preconditions at the time of issuance of licences are not acceptable,” he said. As it restricts traders to sale medicines as retailers only, he said, the government, again, is trying here to deceive the community by granting another ‘concession’ of allowing wholesale authority to retailers – a concession that is again an intervention away to do away with.

He also presented other reservations where he said that presence of a qualified person was not acceptable. He informed that entire manufacturers and traders’ community vociferously rejected the ‘draconian amendments’, which had imposed harsh sentences including imprisonments and fines or both even for minor offences. “The government imposes punishment of imprisonment of up to 14 years and a fine of Rs 75 million on minor to major offences.

Upon government’s claim of taking all stakeholders into confidence vis-à-vis introduction of amendments in the Punjab Drugs Acts (Amendments) 2017, he said the government was lying on this count as it had not mentioned the names of the so-called ‘stakeholders’ in its summary on new proposed amendments to the drugs law. Meanwhile, the Office of the Inspector General of Police, Punjab, has issued a memo with regard to strike by chemists in Punjab. “The IGP has directed to provide security to those chemists, who want to open their shops during the ongoing strike of chemists. No one should be forced by the chemists’ unions to close shops. The chemists’ shops/medical stores near major teaching hospitals must be kept open to avoid inconvenience to the public. He directed the police to ensure compliance of the directions in letter and spirit,” the memo reads.