It took a public interest petition and the Supreme Court’s nudge for the Centre to revive and upgrade its three-century-old state-run laboratories producing vaccines used for the government’s universal immunization programme.
The government had shut down Central Research Institute (CRI), Kasauli, BCG Vaccine Laboratory (BCGVL) in Guindy and Pasteur Institute of India (PII) in Coonor in 2008 after they were found to be not complying with statutory norms.
Former union health secretary SP Shukla had rushed to the top court in 2009 alleging the public sector undertakings (PSUs) were closed to benefit private manufacturers from whom the government would have purchased the vaccines.
After the closure, he said, wives of the directors at PSUs started their own private companies for manufacturing the vaccines.
But a constant monitoring by the SC has finally revived these units with “state-of the art” facility.
In its latest affidavit submitted before the top court, the health ministry said it has spent over Rs 279 crore for upgrading the laboratories, leading to enhancement of their production capacity.
The health ministry affidavit comes five months after a rebuke by chief justice TS Thakur’s bench on March 14.
“Why don’t you make your own units functional, instead of procuring from the market?” the CJI had asked. The bench wanted the government to replace the old technology with new one to improve production and quality of the vaccines.
CRI and BCGVL produce Bacillus Calmette (BCG) vaccine whereas CRI Kasauli produces DPT group of vaccines. BCGVL also manufactures BCG therapeutic for use in chemotherapy and PII also produces anti-rabies vaccine.
CRI Kasauli now has a production facility of 100 million doses, 25 million more than the previous capacity. Over Rs 49 crore has been invested to improve the unit. The enhanced production in these units started last year.
BCG vaccine laboratory acquired the new facility in June this year. The “state of the art” equipment cost Rs 63.13 crore to the government, which has nominated HLL Life Care – a PSU – as the project management constultant to the unit.
The annual capacity will be 80 million doses. The project is complete and trial production for new facility is being initiated, the government told the SC.
PII, Coonoor was undergoing renovation, the ministry said. The construction work, incurring an expenditure of Rs 146.61 crore will be complete in December this year and the facility validation in March 2017, read the ministry affidavit.
The targeted capacity for annual production is 130 million doses, which will be 45 million more than what it used to produce.