Real estate in the country’s capital enters the realm of the surreal when an apothecary offers to pay a million rupees a month for the privilege of dispensing medicines at the doorstep of the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Drugs constitute nearly three-fourths of an Indian’s healthcare expenditure, an opportunity no self-respecting pharmacist will miss. Even if it means paying Rs 7,120 per square foot every month to store a box of cough syrup. Organised retailers in India spend between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of their operating expenses on real estate and earn profits in the region of 25 per cent. The undisclosed bidder for the glorified telephone booth outside AIIMS will obviously make serious money.
AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital, with a combined budget of Rs 900 crore (4.26 per cent of the central government’s expenditure on health this year), are even more obviously not bothered when business walks out of the door. A UN study finds that every second patient reports prescribed medicines are not available in India’s state-run hospitals. The taxpayer ought to be relived that his taxes are at least paying for cheap diagnosis, if not treatment. One in five respondents in the UN study, however, said they had to pay bribes for services at government hospitals.
All this is not to take away from the entrepreneurship of the drug dispenser who will walk into the renters’ hall of fame. London’s West End cannot match this rate, nor can Tokyo’s Ginza strip. And they ought not to. For the boutiques on Fifth Avenue are merely selling lifestyles. The poky shop outside two of the best hospitals in the country is dispensing something far more precious — life.