The Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), an affiliate of the RSS, according to a news report in Business Standard, has written to the prime minister accusing NITI Aayog of pursuing an agenda that is “against national interests and fundamentally anti-poor” and goes on to accuse NITI Aayog and its bureaucrats of working in a “concerted fashion to lobby for crass commercial interests of the pharmaceuticals sector”. Much of this, of course, stems from some of the recommendations in NITI Aayog’s Three Year Action Agenda that was released recently. What has clearly got SJM’s goat is the statement that says “there is a trade-off between lower prices on the one hand and quality medicine and discovery of breakthrough drugs on the other … it is therefore recommended that the Drug Price Control Order may be delinked from the National List of Medicines”.
Given how, over the past decades, production of medicines under DPCO has actually decelerated and given how the industry has become so export-oriented—all Indian medicine is subject to some form of price control—that there is little research on serious Indian diseases, NITI Aayog’s recommendation is a welcome one.
SJM, though, can take heart from the fact that the government isn’t in favour of freeing up the sector anyway and so is unlikely to act on these suggestions. Sadly, NITI has bought into the prime minister’s view that doctors must not prescribe branded drugs—it reiterates this as a recommendation—even though this will end up putting all power in the hand of chemists who are more susceptible to pharma company inducements and also ignores the perils of doing so in a country where the regulation of drug-quality is almost non-existent.
NITI’s recommendations for dismantling both the APMC and procurement regime to stimulate agriculture production are, of course, old ones—while there is some work on dismantling APMC, the suggestions on moving away from procurement haven’t gained traction. It is not clear if SJM has a problem with NITI Aayog’s recommendation on restructuring the Essential Commodities Act in order to encourage various agriculture players like exporters, food processors or large retailers, but given the government’s penchant for using ECA each time food prices rise, it is unlikely the PM is going to act on that anyway.
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In this sector, it is NITI’s suggestion that price control on seeds be done away with in order to encourage seed R&D that has upset SJM, as has the one on how GM technology must be encouraged given its potential to raise yields and to come up with solutions for flood/ drought/ saline/high-temperatures that will increasingly be the norm. Sadly, NITI seems to have fallen for urban legend on seed companies ripping off farmers, so it recommends “limiting GM seeds to those varieties discovered by our own institutions and companies”.
In short, NITI Aayog has some good suggestions but it has been hesitant about them and, in many cases, has chosen to go along with bad policy that the government currently favours. But if even these limited suggestions are enough to make the RSS’s SJM call it anti-national and anti-poor, this is a badge NITI Aayog must wear with considerable pride.