Minister’s Malfeasance

The minister of state (MoS) for health has come out with a disingenuous argument to defend the former health minister, Sham Lal Sharma, over the supply of spurious and sub-standard drugs to government-run hospitals in Kashmir. The MoS has been constrained to issue a clean bill of health to Mr Sharma in the face of a strong indictment by a doctors’ association in the Valley which wants responsibility fixed where it belongs – those in authority and in a position to make a difference for the better. The Doctors’ Association of Kashmir (DAK) has moved the state High Court seeking an independent inquiry in the supply of spurious drugs. It has filed a petition under Public Interest Litigation, naming the former health minister, the commissioner secretary for health, the director for health services, and the state’s drug controller, among others, as the respondents. The DAK’s rather conclusive terminology about Sham Lal Sharma may appear sweeping on the face of it, but needs to be viewed in the overall context of the issue. The present instance of massive quantities of a particular antibiotic having been supplied in sub-standard form is not an isolated case, but that rare occurrence of malfeasance having actually been detected. Otherwise, Kashmir is flooded with pharmaceuticals of dubious quality, and companies and agencies of dubious repute, all engaged in a lucrative trade right beneath the noses of standards enforcement arms of the government. Only the naive would assume that such a large-scale “business” would have no beneficiaries other than the principals.

It is natural for the MoS to have sought to absolve Sham Lal Sharma of blame in the drugs scam – birds of a feather, after all, flock together, but by his specious reasoning, that the former health minister was not involved in the purchases, no one would ever be called to account in any case of dereliction of the duty of office, which in this case might have had untold consequences, even fatal.  The MoS needs to be reminded that an absconding owner of a drug company stands charged with attempted murder in Rajasthan for having caused deaths by supplying spurious pharmaceuticals. The learned minister of state would stand benefitted to know that similar or stronger charges can be transmitted up the government’s decision-making chain, particularly, in the case of Kashmir where clearing sub-standard drugs for use is not a matter of negligence but a deliberate, considered and wilful act undertaken with an eye on the monetary and other spinoffs accruing across the board. If for nothing else, Sham Lal Sharma, and his predecessors in the health ministry, needs to be hauled up before the law for allowing a criminally lax standards enforcement wing to remain practically ineffectual for so long. It would not be surprising if the MoS next argued that it was not the former health minister’s job to ensure that the state’s so-called Drug Control bureau performed its mandated functions fully, rigorously, unimpeachably, and without a single pharmaceutical preparation escaping its scrutiny. So far as the government and its accomplices are concerned, the usual culprit has already begun to be named –  lack of adequate manpower and equipment in the Drug Control authority. Even if that were the case, should it not have been among the former health minister’s foremost priorities to empower the department sufficiently, especially when Jammu and Kashmir ranks at the top of the country’s consumption in pharmaceuticals. Under no circumstances can Sham Lal Sharma escape blame.  

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