NPPA, Centre Asked To Cap Prices of N95 Masks
The reduced MRPs of N95 Masks by NPPA are in fact 450-850% higher than the January (2020) price shelled out by a government body.
Mumbai: Taking the Union Government and National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) to a task, the Bombay High Court has asked to reconsider the pricing of N95 masks, used by medical professionals while treating COVID-19 patients. The court further directed the authority to pass appropriate order in accordance with the Drug Price Control order.
The order came following a PIL filed by Sucheta Dalal and Anjali Damania, claiming that prices need to be capped to prevent black marketing of masks during the coronavirus-induced lockdown. As per the PIL, although N95 masks had been categorised as essential commodities under the Essential Commodities Act, hoarding and profiteering from the sale of such masks by black marketeers continued in the state.
In the previous hearing on May 19, Desai had informed the court that there was a shortage of N95 masks for frontline health workers and it was imperative to prevent hoarding or black marketing of the protective gear.
However, the Maharashtra government had told the court at the time that it had already written to the Centre seeking that a ceiling price be fixed for N95 masks.
On Tuesday, the Union government''s counsel Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh told the court that there were no plans to cap the price of such masks, as they were already being sold at a "reduced price by 47 per cent" following the government''s intervention.
On May 21, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority(NPPA) had issued an advisory asking all manufacturers, importers and suppliers of N95 masks to maintain parity in prices for non-government procurements and ensure that masks were sold at reasonable prices, Singh stated.
Following the advisory, prices had been slashed by 47 per cent, he added. NPPA claimed that the prices have been brought down significantly by 47%, the price of only one N95 mask has been reduced by 47%. A majority of other respirators' prices came down by 23-41%.
Strikingly, NPPA on June 3 came out with a list of maximum retail prices (MRP) of N95 respirators produced by domestic businesses ranging from Rs 95 to Rs 165 as reduced prices. The reduced MRPs are in fact 450-850% higher than the January (2020) price shelled out by a government body.
The MRP list as issued by NPPA read;
Deliberating the instant case, a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice S S Shinde observed that the Centre must take into account the law involving the pricing of essential items and accordingly cap the price of N95 masks, stated senior counsel Mihir Desai. The bench noted;
"The NPPA cannot allow an increase in the price of a drug beyond 10% of the price in the preceding 12 months, so long as the statute is there. It cannot be left to the manufacturers."
The bench directed the NPPA to take a relook at and pass appropriate order in accordance with the price control order. The court further asked the NPPA to take a decision as early as possible, preferably within 10 days, but not beyond two weeks.
After the court expressed displeasure at the uncontrolled rise in the prices of N95 masks, additional solicitor general Anil Singh, appearing for the Union of India and NPPA, sought time to take instructions and stated that the authorities would consider capping the mask prices, which the court allowed and posted the matter for further hearing on June 12, reports HT.
As per a PTI report, the court had earlier asked the Centre to clarify whether it plans to cap the price of N95 masks.