Interpol wants to join the fake drugs battle, Indian government fights shy

Written by Soma Das | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 18 2012, 07:49am hrs
The International Cri-minal Police Organisation, popularly known as Interpol, wants to assist the Indian government in its effort to clamp down on the alleged fake drugs network in the country. While the France-headquartered agency wants New Delhi and Indias generic drug companies to sign up for the Interpol Global Register (IGR) to facilitate tracking the illicit drugs trail, the government is wary of any move to link intellectual property rights (IPR) issues with the scourge of counterfeiting.

According to official sou-rces, in a confidential letter sent to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) a few weeks back, Interpol said its secretary-general Ronald K Noble is keen on visiting India to meet a group of top government officials and a few leading generic companies to discuss the matter and encourage them to sign up the IGR.

The register is a project still under development to fight trafficking of illicit goods by making it more challenging for criminals to put counterfeit products on the market or to sell products by illegitimate means, according to an Interpol statement.

Sources said the Interpol message was forwarded by the CBI to three departments those of health, commerce, and industrial policy and promotion seeking their inputs on the proposal. However, according to sources, at least two of these three arms of government have raised strong objections to the plan.

We are strongly against mixing up IPR issues, particularly in the area of pharmaceuticals, with policing and customs. We believe that police and custom authorities worldwide lack the requisite expertise in the highly specialised area of IPR issues and sometimes their misinterpretation can lead to dangerous consequences in the area of public health. We already have past instances of legitimate generic drugs getting branded as illicit counterfeit trade and important shipments getting stuck as a result of that, said a government official, asking not to be named.

For Indian generics, it is a case of once bitten twice shy after a series of seizures in 2009 at European ports wherein legitimate generic drugs originating from India bound for Latin America and other markets were seized by European customs authorities in transit.

For weeks together, some European Union states refused to release these shipments, branding them counterfeit. Since then the government has on several global platforms made it clear that it doesnt support the involvement of Interpol in the enforcement of pharma patents, including at the global debates at the World Health Organisation.

We believe they should try it in some other countries, prove its effectiveness and maybe then approach us to replicate it, another official said. The pharma industry also largely remains sceptical of the initiative at this stage. Although I do not really know the details of the proposal, I believe it could involve Interpol monitoring the entire supply chain throughout the trade. This could logically extend to Interpol having a cell here in the country and getting a right to intercept our drugs during exports, an idea many pharma promoters may not be very comfortable with, a top executive of a leading pharma company told FE on condition of anonymity.

Interpol pegs the annual global counterfeit trade at $2 trillion, compared with a legitimate global trade figure of about $10 trillion.

Meanwhile, the ministry of commerce is in the process of implementing mandatory track-and-trace technology for all drug exports and the ministry of health is studying the feasibility of doing the same in the domestic market and has tied up with technology firm Wipro to execute it.