Three years on, J&K Police yet to file for infants’ death

Published on Oct 07, 2022 03:58 AM IST

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warning that four “contaminated” and “substandard” cough syrups allegedly produced by Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited based in Haryana’s Sonepat could be the reason for the death of 66 children in the West African nation of The Gambia has put the spotlight back on 14 fatalities in J&K about three years ago

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warning that four “contaminated” and “substandard” cough syrups allegedly produced by Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited based in Haryana’s Sonepat could be the reason for the death of 66 children in the West African nation of The Gambia has put the spotlight back on 14 fatalities in J&K about three years ago. (Image for representational purpose)
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warning that four “contaminated” and “substandard” cough syrups allegedly produced by Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited based in Haryana’s Sonepat could be the reason for the death of 66 children in the West African nation of The Gambia has put the spotlight back on 14 fatalities in J&K about three years ago. (Image for representational purpose)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warning that four “contaminated” and “substandard” cough syrups allegedly produced by Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited based in Haryana’s Sonepat could be the reason for the death of 66 children in the West African nation of The Gambia has put the spotlight back on 14 fatalities in J&K about three years ago.

Fourteen infants had died in Jammu and Kashmir after consuming spurious cough syrup manufactured at Himachal Pradesh’s Kala Amb-based Digital Vision pharmaceutical company between December 2019 and January 2020. Three years on, the Jammu and Kashmir Police are yet to file a chargesheet and the case against the company is still pending in court.

The J&K Police say they will file the chargesheet “within the next 10 to 15 days”.

The lab reports had concluded that Coldbest PC cough syrup manufactured by Digital Vision pharma company was responsible for the death of the 14 infants —13 in Ramnagar area of Udhampur district and one at Bishnah in Jammu district between December 2019 and January 2020.

The delay in presenting the chargesheet happened because the members of a special investigation team, which had been constituted initially, got transferred and then it had to be reconstituted. The investigations picked up momentum in April last year after new incumbent deputy SP Bhisham Dubey took charge as sub divisional police officer at Ramnagar. The Ramnagar SDPO is the investigating officer of the case.

Udhampur SSP Vinod Kumar said, “Within next 10 to 15 days, the chargesheet will be filed. It is in the final stages.” It will be filed before the sessions court in Udhampur.

Investigating officer Dubey said, “The delay happened because disability certificates were pending when investigation was handed over to me in April last year following the transfer of my predecessor. Further, I wanted to know if diethylene glycol can cause death and had written to various labs. An autopsy report was also pending. I had also sent mails to PGI, Chandigarh, for getting the treatment plan of children, then death certificates of 12 children were not obtained and disability certificates also had to be procured.”

The IO also had to send correspondence to RDTL Chandigarh, drug department and Himachal Pradesh officials.

The police officer also had to record statements of over 50 to 52 parents and guardians, who initially were reluctant.

The FIR (number 33 of March 3, 2020) was registered at Ramnagar police station under Section 16, Section 17A (e), Section 18 (a) (i) read with Section 27(a) and Section 36AC of the Drugs & Cosmetics Act, 1940, and under relevant provision of the IPC.

The whistle-blower in the case, social activist Sukesh Khajuria, informed that a certified copy on status report obtained for the second time by him from police via a first class judicial magistrate on July 3 this year clearly stated that charge-sheet has not been filed yet. He regretted the lackadaisical approach of the police.

Khajuria had moved the NHRC seeking compensation for the families, who lost their children.

Consequently, NHRC directed the J&K administration to pay a compensation of 3 lakh each to the families of 12 children.

However, the J&K administration refused to honour the NHRC directive on the grounds that compensation should be paid by the manufacturer. The NHRC had then sought personal appearance of the chief secretary and additional chief secretary before it.

Reluctant to award compensation to the families, the J&K administration filed a writ petition before a division bench of the high court headed by Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice PV Sindhu.

However, the division bench dismissed the writ petition and upheld NHRC directive on April 6 last year.

Following the high court order and to avoid personal appearance of the chief secretary and additional chief secretary before the NHRC, J&K administration, on April 29 this year, digitally transferred 3 lakh each (total 36 lakh) to the families of 12 children but after taking an undertaking from them that they would return the compensation amount subject to outcome of a SLP (special leave petition) pending disposal before the Supreme Court. The SLP (number 008345/2021) was registered on June 30 and verified on July 15 last year before the apex court.

J&K’s drug controller Lotika Khajuria, said, “Pharmaceutical company Digital Vision was blacklisted and banned in February 2020 following the death of infants. We also lodged an FIR and the matter is subjudice.”

When asked about measures by drug department to check such incidents in future, she said, “The drug enforcement wing has the responsibility. It’s a dynamic process as we act upon inputs. When children started dying in Ramnagar, they grabbed attention at the national level and our central team visited the area immediately. The stocks were immediately traced and lifted from the market and strict action followed against the pharma company.”

Case against HP pharma unit pending in court

As many as 5,500 bottles of the syrup of the controversial September 2019 batch meant for children had been sold in states, including Haryana, J&K, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.

The presence of an impurity, diethylene glycol, was detected in the cough syrup and this was found to be present in the solvent propylene glycol (PG), used in the syrup. The origin of PG has been traced to Chennai-based Manali Petrochemicals.

The solvent was sold to two Delhi-based traders, who further sold it to a trader in Ambala and from there it found its way to the Kala Amb-based Digital Vision pharmaceutical unit.

“We had immediately lodged a case against the firm, but the matter is still pending in the court,” said state drug controller Navneet Marwah.

(With inputs by Gaurav Bisht)

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    A principal correspondent, Ravi Krishnan Khajuria is the bureau chief at Jammu. He covers politics, defence, crime, health and civic issues for Jammu city.

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