HC for swift probe, trial in black marketing of COVID-19 drugs amid nationwide crackdowns

NAGPUR: The Bombay High Court on Thursday said in order to deter unscrupulous persons from indulging in black marketing of life-saving drugs like Remdesivir, police and courts should ensure that probe and trial in such cases are completed swiftly.

The Nagpur bench of the HC said the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening day by day in the country and the situation appears to be the worst in Nagpur.

A division bench of Justices Z A Haq and A B Borkar took suo motu (on its own) notice of a media report pertaining to the arrest of 32 persons, including a doctor, on charges of black marketing Remdesivir in Nagpur on Wednesday.

The anti-viral drug, widely used to treat critical coronavirus patients, is in high demand nationwide after the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

The bench said while it appreciates the action taken by the police, the time consumed for investigation and completion of trials is not deterring some people from indulging in such activities.

In such a crisis situation, the courts cannot be mute spectator and cannot turn a Nelsons eye to such incidents, the bench said in its order.

To send strong signals to people who may indulge in black marketing of life-saving drugs, it is necessary that investigation and trial of such accused persons are taken to conclusion and one of the effective ways is to ensure that the trial is completed in a swift manner, it said.

The HC said due to a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases, neither the manufacturers of medicines nor the authorities entrusted with their distribution were prepared, resulting in unscrupulous people taking advantage of the situation.

The demand-supply ratio of the Remdesivir injection, which is considered to be a life-saving drug, is exponentially inverse, the order said.

During such a crisis, certain people involved in supply of medicines or having access to them are trying to exploit needy patients by selling such drugs at high prices, the judges said, Since the lives of patients are at stake, the family of such patients are ready to pay any amount, they said.

The court said such cases are seldom reported to the police.

It is therefore necessary to initiate measures to deter such unscrupulous persons from indulging in black marketing of life-saving drugs like Remdesivir injections, the court said.

The HC was informed by the Nagpur police commissioner that in this particular case, where 32 persons have been arrested, the police would complete its probe and file a chargesheet by May 3.

The court accepted the statement and posted the matter for further hearing on May 4.

Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court Thursday directed the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of the revenue department of AAP government to issue orders for release of Remdesivir, used in COVID-19 treatment, as soon as they are seized by the police from hoarders and black marketeers.

A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli issued the direction to ensure that the seized medicine does not remain as case property, does not lose its effectiveness and can be administered to patients in need.

The court said once a seizure was made, the Investigating Officer (IO) shall immediately inform the DC about the same.

The IO shall also ascertain that the seized medicines are genuine and ensure they are kept in a refrigerated environment to maintain their effectiveness till they are released to a hospital or a COVID health centre, the bench said.

Similar direction was issued by the court with regard to use of oxygen cylinders seized by the police during raids.

Arrests continue across India as crackdown intensified on hoarders

A 32-year-old doctor and a lab assistant were arrested on Thursday for allegedly black marketing remdesivir injections, police said.

Acting on a tip-off, a team of the narcotics cell arrested the two suspects and recovered eight injections, an officer said.

Those arrested have been identified as doctor Vishu Aggarwal, a resident of Sector-13 in Rohini, and lab assistant Nikhil Garg (22), a resident of Rajouri Garden, they said.

Aggarwal was apprehended from Barwala Chowk with his car.

He was found in possession of three injections without any receipt or prescription slip, according to the officer.

During interrogation, Aggarwal disclosed that he procured the recovered remdesivir from Garg at Rs 35,000 per injection for further sale at Rs 45,000, he said.

Garg was apprehended with his scooter and five injections were recovered from him, police said.

He disclosed that the injections were procured from a person named Naveen from Rohini.

A case has been registered and efforts are on to apprehend Naveen, police said.

A 39-year old man was taken into custody by police here for allegedly anti-viral drug Remdesivir at a high price, police said on Wednesday.

The accused, who is running a pharmaceutical shop and another (absconding) accused, were illegally selling Remdesivir vials in the blackmarket at a high price,they said.

On a tip-off, a police team apprehended the pharmaceutical shop owner at Kachiguda when he came to hand over the injections to a customer, a release from Hyderabad Police Commissionerate said.

Police seized four Remdesivir injections from the possession of the accused.

A case was registered.

In two separate incidents, the Ahmedabad police on Thursday nabbed 10 persons, one of them working with a pharma firm, with genuine as well as fake Remdesivir vials which they were planning to sell in the black market at very high rates, officials said.

Besides seizing genuine and counterfeit vials of Remdesivir, the police recovered Rs 21 lakh in cash from the hotel room of one of the accused, they said.

In a shocking revelation, the city crime branch has learnt that seven of them have already sold around 5,000 fake Remdesivir injections, at a rate of up to Rs 29,000 per vial, to the relatives of coronavirus patients, they said.

The anti-viral drug, widely used to treat critical coronavirus patients, is in high demand nationwide after the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

Among the three accused held by the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the crime branch in another operation, one works as a “plant operator” at Zydus Biotech Park on the outskirts of the city where the pharma firm manufactures Remdesivir, said the officials.

Based on a tip-off, a team of the SOG raided a shop in the Bapunagar area and nabbed three men with 24 vials of Remdesivir worth Rs 21,576, said Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone 6) A M Muniya.

The arrested persons were identified by the police as Milan Savsaviya (21), Deval Kaswala (23) and Hardik Vasani (26), all residents of Ahmedabad.

“Milan Savsaviya has been working as a plant operator at Zydus Biotech Park in Changodar for over 2 years.

His job is to supervise the final stage of Remdesivir production at the facility.

“He confessed to have siphoned off 24 vials from the plant and sold them to Deval Kaswala for Rs 3,000 each,” said Muniya.

Later, Kaswala sold these vials to Vasani for Rs 6,000 each and then the latter sold them to the relatives of COVID- 19 patients at high rates, the DCP added.

In another operation, the crime branch nabbed seven persons who have allegedly sold around 5,000 fake Remdesivir injections at high rates, a second police official said.

A crime branch team first nabbed three men – Jay Thakur, Sunny Singh and Raj Vora – and recovered 30 fake Remdesivir vials, which they had purchased for Rs 12,000 each from one Nitesh Joshi, who has also been apprehended, he said.

“Joshi, a resident of the Naroda area, had rented a room in a five-star hotel in Vastrapur to run this racket. We raided his hotel room and recovered another 103 fake vials of the drug.”

“We recovered Rs 21 lakh from the room and also arrested his friend Shaktisinh Ravat from the spot,” said Joint Commissioner of Police, Crime, Premvir Singh.

Preliminary questioning revealed that the seized vials actually contained an antibiotic available at Rs 100 in the market, he said.

It was revealed that Joshi had purchased the vials from one Vivek Maheshwari, who runs a pharmaceutical agency in Vadodara.

While Maheshwari is absconding, his friend Dishant Malaviya, who is part of the racket, has been arrested, said Singh.

“Maheshwari and Malaviya had purchased vials of an antibiotic drug for Rs 100 per vial from a factory in Ahmedabad and then changed the stickers to make it look like Remdesivir.

“The gang also prepared original-looking packaging boxes. Joshi has alone sold 400 fake injections,” said Singh.

The seventh accused is Paril Patel, who used to prepare duplicate stickers and packaging boxes for vials, he said.

“All the seven accused knew each other as they were into pharmaceutical trade. Till now, they have confessed to have sold around 5,000 fake Remdesivir injections,” the police officer added.

On Wednesday, four persons were arrested from Ahmedabad and one from Anand town with 90 Remdesivir injections worth Rs 4.86 lakh which they were planning to sell in the black market, police had said.

A doctor attached to a government hospital has been arrested in Mahasamund district of Chhattisgarh for allegedly selling Remdesivir injections in black market, police said on Thursday.

A joint team of the district’s cyber cell and local police laid a trap at Rajim and arrested Dr Datyanashan Patel (30) and seized six vials of the drug, used to treat coronavirus patients, from him, said an official.

Patel was selling the drug, part of the consignment provided to the district hospital, at exorbitant price, he said.

A case was registered at Kotwali police station and the accused was handed over to the Drug Control Department for further action, added police.