Amidst shortage of Covid-19 drugs, BJP MP, Gautam Gambhir has been accused of illegally hoarding medicines. In a tweet posted on April 21st, 2021, he stated that people could pick up Fabiflu medicine for free from his office in East Delhi.
People of East Delhi can get ‘Fabiflu’ from MP office (2, Jagriti Enclave) for FREE between 10-5. Kindly get Aadhar & prescription
पूर्वी दिल्ली के लोग “Fabiflu” मेरे कार्यालय (2, जाग्रति एन्क्लेव) से 10 से 5 के बीच मुफ़्त में ले सकते हैं. अपना आधार और डॉक्टर की पर्ची ले आएं
— Gautam Gambhir (@GautamGambhir) April 21, 2021
Shortage of Fabiflue was reported in Delhi at this time. He received wide-spread criticism for the tweet, in response to which he said:
“If a few 100 strips of tablets obtained from a distributor are being given for free, then, can it be called hoarding? Is my obtaining a few strips of Fabiflu causing the shortage? You can call me wrong, but I’ll do everything to save the lives of people.”
On the 24th of May, the Delhi High Court, instructed the Drug Controller to conduct an inquiry into the allegations of illegal hoarding. Allegations for the same against Aam Aadmi Party’s Priti Tomar and Praveen Kumar, were to also be investigated. In the case of these two, the allegation was hoarding of oxygen cylinders.
Unsatisfactory Approach of Report
The Delhi High Court criticized the Drug Controller for “unsatisfactory” investigation of purchase of the drug by Gambhir, under his foundation, the Gautam Gambhir Foundation. In addition, the Court criticised the apporach taken in the report, as it doesn’t investigate how such large quantities were given to the Gautam Gambhir foundation, when it wasn’t a dealer.
The status report by the Dug Controller, attempted to provide a legal basis for the hoarding of the drug Fabiflu from dealers and retailers. Counsel Nandita Rao representing the Drug Controller, informed the court that the drug was purchased from licensed dealers and retailers in a phased manner, after Garg Hospital issued a letter approving of the sale. She went on to add that such a move was able to save several lives.
The HC bench composed of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh termed the report as “trash”. They stated:
“How could such a large stock be given to a foundation which is not a medical practitioner? We dare say it is not permissible…We reject this status report…this is trash. There is no legal basis to it,”
Claim of “Ample Supply” of Drugs
A key argument of the report was that the drug was “in ample supply” even after purchase, to counter the accusation of hoarding. In response to this, the court stated:
“You are wrong to say it was not in short supply. You want us to shut our eyes. You think you would get away with this…”
The Court criticised Gambhir’s public statement to the press, where he said he would accept any punishment and ‘continue to save lives’, and questioned why a dealer would sell exclusively to a foundation in the first place. The Court also remarked that political leaders such as Gambhir were hoarding and selling medicines at a time when such medicines are in high public demand and are not available to the public. Advocate Virag Gupta stated:
“This was hoarding only…they (authorities) have booked thousands of common persons for not wearing masks. But when it comes to VIPs, they call it technical violation.”
The case highlights how hoarding of medicines and the image politics of politicians have become deeply linked in the pandemic. Polticians in an attempt to paint themselves as saviours are actually cutting off medicines in popular demand. In the Drug Controller report, it is shown that around 286 strips of Fabiflue still remain in storage with the organisation, proving that the foundation procured well above what was required. The Court rightly criticised such an attempt by saying:
“The tendency of people taking advantage and trying to appear as a savior needs to be denounced.”