- HC asks NPPA why it did not ensure N-95 prices don't increase beyond 10% a year
- Court gives 10 days to maximum two weeks to act
- Now N-95 masks are regulated under rules for Essential Commodities Act and disaster management
- The government procuring N-95 masks at ex-factory costs mandates prices should not go above MRP
- Complaints rampant about hoarding, black-marketing and differential higher pricing in non-governmental sale
While complaints of hoarding, black-marketing and differential higher pricing of N-95 masks are on the rise in the wake of COVID-19, the Bombay High Court has directed the Indian drug regulator National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) to examine if it can cap per-year increase in N-95 masks at 10 per cent as per rules related to essential drugs.
A two-member bench of the Bombay High Court on June 9 observed that NPPA has not considered provisions under paragraph 20 of the Drug Price Control Order (DPCO), while notifying N-95 masks as an essential commodity under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. The Paragraph 20 of the DPCO ensures that prices of drugs do not increase beyond 10 per cent of prevailing prices in the preceding 12 months. The Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice SS Shinde directed the NPPA to take a re-look at its decision and pass appropriate orders as per the drug governing laws, preferably within 10 days, but not beyond two weeks.
The court's directive comes as part of hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) alleging rampant black marketing and profiteering in the sale of N-95 protective face masks.
Though NPPA did not cap prices of the masks, it had notified N-95 masks as an essential commodity under provisions of the Essential Commodities Act on March 13. The order also mandated governments and union territories to ensure sufficient availability of surgical and protective masks, hand sanitisers and gloves and prices should not exceed the MRP, invoking rules under the National Disaster Management Act,2005.
A follow-up NPPA order on May 21 said the government was procuring N-95 masks at ex-factory costs, but there are complaints of differential pricing in non-governmental purchases and directed manufacturers and procurers to 'maintain parity in prices for non-government procurement and to make available the same at reasonable prices'.