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NPPA chief transfer not unusual after a two-year term: Junior minister

National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority chairman Bhupendra Singh’s transfer sparked outrage among health activists.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2018 20:59 IST
Teena Thacker
National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) chairman Bhupendra Singh.
National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) chairman Bhupendra Singh.(Picture courtesy: NPPA official website )

The recent exit of the drug pricing watchdog’s chairman will not slow efforts to make healthcare more affordable, the minister of state in the department of pharmaceuticals said in an interview, playing down the transfer that followed caps on prices of cardiac stents and knee implants that upset the medical devices industry.

National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) chairman Bhupendra Singh, who also highlighted profiteering by private hospitals, was transferred on 1 March to the National Authority for Chemical Weapons Convention in the cabinet secretariat, sparking outrage among health activists. Singh, who joined the Uttar Pradesh cadre of the Indian Administrative Service in 1985, had served as NPPA’s head since February 2016.

The transfer was effected as part of a reshuffle of senior civil servants. .

“There is nothing unusual in his transfer. The mandate of the NPPA is to regulate prices and it will continue,” said Mansukh L Mandaviya, minister of state, department of pharmaceuticals, ministry of chemicals and fertilisers. The NPPA is an independent regulatory body under the ministry of chemicals and fertilisers.

“We are hoping that the new chairman will be appointed this month. It is our commitment to make healthcare affordable and it will not get affected. Prices of around 800 formulations have been capped and whosoever joins will continue to work with the same vigour,” Mandaviya.

Health activists allege that pressure from pharma and medical devices played a role in the transfer of Singh, who declined to comment for this story.

As the NPPA chief, Singh slashed prices of coronary stents by 85% last year in a move to improve access to the life-saving devices. The drug pricing authority also used its emergency powers to fix the maximum prices and trade margins of knee implants, lowering prices by up to 78%.

He also exposed profiteering by private hospitals in Delhi and the National Capital Region centred on the capital, saying the facilities were marking up prices of drugs, diagnostics and consumables by up to 1,700%.

Birender Sangwan, who petitioned the Delhi high court in 2014 for price regulation of stents, said Singh’s transfer would slow price control efforts. “He has been transferred too soon. During his tenure he reduced the prices of several drugs and medical devices. He was working for the welfare of the people and his unexpected removal from the post is likely to affect price regulation,” Sangwan said.

The All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), a network of healthcare NGOs, has expressed concern over “the manner and timing” of the transfer. “He seems to have been pushed out with intervention of higher authorities which were upset by the NPPA’s move to further reduce the prices of stents. The broad public interest consideration under which NPPA was working to regulate medical device prices, speedy issuance of demand notices for overcharging and reporting trade margins were also factored into the decision,” said Malini Aisola, health researcher and co-convenor of AIDAN.

“The untimely transfer reflects an attempt to interrupt the efforts of the NPPA in the direction of strengthening public access to medicines and health care,” she added.

Even the Association of Indian Medical Device Industry (AIMED), a lobby group of domestic medical devices manufacturers, said the move to transfer Singh was “not good for consumers”. “When good officers leave suddenly, it is disconcerting and not motivating for other officers,” said Rajiv Nath, forum coordinator of AIMED.