Kashmir is in for another spell of protests and shutdowns. This time over spurious and unfit drugs administered to patients in the Valley hospitals in the last three years by the government approved Jammu-based drug dealer.
Hundreds of protesters - comprising civil society members, doctors, traders and the Valley-based chemists - on Thursday brought Srinagar's commercial hub Lal Chowk to a standstill by carrying out a large procession against the "fake drug mafia".
"We demand a judicial probe into the recent state laboratory reports confirming that spurious and fake drugs were administered in government hospitals. Those involved in purchase and selling of these drugs should be sacked immediately and should face the law," said Shakeel Qalander, a senior member of the Valley's known civil society group Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies.
The protesters carrying banners "Sack and hang those involved in drug scam" raised slogans against former health minister Sham Lal Sharma and the present government for its "indifferent" attitude.
Two major supplies of life saving drugs to Kashmir-based government hospitals - antibiotic Maximizen-625 and Curesef - were found unfit and spurious by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, Ministry of health and family welfare, and the local drug control department.
The drug purchases were made after the Central Purchase Committee members headed by former health minister Sharma passed a Jammu-based drug dealer to supply these drugs. Curesef, which failed drug test twice in 2011 and 2012, continued to be administered in hospitals.
"A genocide of Kashmiris is being carrying out with the government support," alleged Nisar-ul-Hassan, president, Doctors Association Kashmir. "Fresh report suggests that an intravenous drug contain particulate matter that can lead to instant death," he added.
The doctors and civil society bodies have filed public interest litigation and RTI applications to probe the deaths that may have caused due to these spurious drugs. There were instances in hospitals where patients died 48 hours after they were admitted into hospitals, alleged the civil society group. The State Human Rights Commission too lambasted the government over the issue.
"The unprecedented deaths of children last year (which was around 300 infants in three months) could be because of these drugs. Poison is being administered to kids," said Nayeema Hameed, an English professor at Kashmir University.
Jammu and Kashmir Chemists and Drug dealers' Association president Fayaz Azad said if these drugs were made available in the open market it would have "wreaked havoc".
The government has already constituted a committee to look into the matter. But till date no drug company or purchasing committee member or minister faced any legal action. A team was sent to inspect Himachal-based Affy Parenterals to check production of Maximizen. Both the brands, however, have been withdrawn from the hospitals.
Hardline and moderate Hurriyat chairmen Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in separate statements described the drug scam as "attempt to deliberately kill people of Kashmir". A shutdown call has been given by Geelani for coming Saturday to protest against the fake drugs, first such call over any public issue ever since Afzal Guru's execution roiled atmosphere here.
"This racket is a blatant violation of the most precious right of life. Those involved in this deserve the harshest punishment but it is a known fact that the government is least bothered about the life, honor and sentiments of the people here," said Zahid Ali, spokesman of the Valley's leading religo-political group Jammat-e-Islami.