Vol. XLI No. 10 March 05, 2017

Nationwide Strike by FMRAI Demanding Price Reduction of Medicines, Medical Devices

MEDICAL and sales representatives throughout the country took part in an all-India strike on February 3, at the call of FMRAI, demanding reduction of prices of medicines and medical devices and revival of public sector pharma units. The striking workers also demanded that no tax be imposed on medicines and medical devices, even under the proposed GST regime.

The Federation of Medical and Sales Representatives’ Associations of India (FMRAI) also called for convening of a meeting of industrial tripartite committee, framing of statutory working rules for sales/promotion employees by the central government and fulfillment of other labour-related demands of the workers.

The spiralling rise of prices of medicines has put the common people of the country in a critical situation. The access to medicine is now restricted to a very small sphere where the common people have no entry. With the advent of neo-liberal economic policies pursued by the central government, India is going back to pre-independence stage and the country is gradually becoming dependent on costly imported medicines in diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart, brain and kidney ailments. The restriction of foreign investment in the pharmaceutical sector has been removed and the central government is inviting foreign pharmaceutical companies allowing 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in this sector. This has not only endangered self-reliance achieved by our country so far, but also deliberately destabilised all the public-sector pharma and vaccine companies, handing over the huge domestic market of nearly one lakh crore rupees to foreign firms. This is affecting the availability and affordability of essential medicines and medical devices.

As an eyewash through the Drug Price Control Order (DPCO), the central government has fixed the ceiling price of some medicines taking average MRP of the highest selling brands, instead of considering their manufacturing cost and bringing down the high price by putting a cap. The government, in other words, is legitimising the increase of prices of medicines and medical devices with a provision of 10 per cent annual raise by manufacturers. For most of the medical devices, there are no MRP and the production cost or the purchase price in case of imported devices are also not furnished to the government, so the government is forced decide the price suo motu. Still, 80 per cent of medicines are out of price control.

Next to petroleum, there are multiple taxes at different levels which are also responsible for high price of medicines. Furthermore, excise duty which was levied earlier on the cost of production has been changed to maximum retail price (MRP) and thereby, making the prices of medicines costlier. Excise duty on MRP means more the MRP, more is the revenue generation of governments, more profit to the manufacturers, but the final victims are the hapless ailing poor Indians!

PSU pharmaceutical units had been manufacturing and marketing essential medicines at affordable prices as per the disease pattern prevalent in the country. As a policy, this sector is being dismantled to pave the way for MNCs and their Indian counterparts. The Modi government is even more shamelessly and aggressively implementing the pro-corporate neo-liberal economic policy and has decided to close the entire drug PSUs with immediate effect. Such a decision is disastrous. The FMRAI demands revival of all the public sector pharmaceutical companies like IDPL, HAL and BCPL.

Corruption in pharma industry, the second largest profitable industry in the world, is at its peak. Following the global financial crisis, Indian market has become most attractive ground in terms of market, having 125 crore customers and total business of one lakh crore rupees. Successive governments have surrendered to MNCs, opening the gates to them through FDI. It is allowing the drug companies to make super profits, for which the drug companies are going all out to sell their products through corrupt practices, resorting to unfair trading and unethical marketing. The FMRAI has been demanding that the government impose a uniform code on ethical marketing practices, but the Modi government is mute on the issue of imposing punishment for corporate corruption in medicines market. It is in this background that the FMRAI has been campaigning for an alternative, people-oriented drug policies and raised these specific demands before the central government.

All states and Union territories have witnessed unprecedented success of the strike where more than two lakh sales promotion employees, popularly known as medical and sales representatives, of all industries joined the strike. In more than 250 cities and towns across the country, hundreds of field workers, including a huge number of non-members, participated in picketing at their places of work. There have been colourful rallies, dharnas, demonstrations, mashal julus, mass meetings, street meetings and campaign amongst doctors, chemists, customers and the masses.

From Kashmir valley to Tamil Nadu and from Kutch to northeastern states of the country, the strike reached a new height. FMRAI members and non-members in Anantnag in Kashmir valley resorted to strike in an organised manner. The strike has been total and spontaneous in Punjab, Chandigarh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Even, in Delhi and Haryana, there has been significant impact of the strike with mobilisation of members in pre-strike and strike day programmes. In the southern states, the strike has been total with massive participation of field workers in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Puducherry. Amongst the western states, the strike was at high spirit in Maharashtra, especially in Mumbai, the citadel of the pharmaceutical industry, along with other towns of Maharashtra. Fired with enthusiasm, field workers demonstrated in Mumbai, outside the office of the Labour Department. Setting new example of mobilisation, field workers organised demonstration and rallies in the tiny state of Goa. The strike was also total and comprehensive in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and in towns and cities of Gujarat. In the Northeast, the strike call was reciprocated by the members with a tremendous response from the furthest Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram and, Meghalaya. Field workers went to the street in large numbers in different towns of Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal. In the central programme, around 3,000 members participated in a massive rally in Kolkata, which culminated into a mass meeting at Esplanade. The meeting was addressed by CITU state president Shyamal Chakraborty, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Md. Salim and FMRAI’s General Secretary Santanu Chatterjee.

Prior to the strike, more than a thousand members of FMRAI from all the states assembled at Delhi on November 20 to stage a dharna before Parliament. The meeting in Delhi was addressed by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member A K Padmanabhan, CITU general secretary Tapan Sen and leaders of the FMRAI. During pre-strike programmes, more than a thousand of general body meetings, conventions, meetings, street-corner gatherings and jathas were organised by the state bodies and extensive campaigns were conducted with tableaus, pamphlets, posters.

On the eve of the strike, Tapan Sen raised the demands of the strike in the Rajya Sabha and sought intervention of the government for speedy redressal of the distress of the field workers regarding their labour-related demands and for quick action in ensuring affordability and availability of essential medicines in the interest of the ailing people of the country.  

The FMRAI stands committed to carry on this struggle and defend the cause of the people in relation to their medicine-related demands and that of the field workers in relation to their life and livelihood with all its might and strength.