Our Bureau

Hyderabad, April 5

THE five-day strike by chemists and druggists in Andhra Pradesh took a serious turn on Tuesday with the State Government invoking ESMA (Essential Services Maintenance Act) and threatening to cancel the licences of druggists.

The Andhra Pradesh Chemists and Druggists Association too has taken a stubborn stand, stating that ESMA did not bother them and it was ready to surrender about 36,000 licences if the Government failed to implement single point VAT.

Meanwhile, the Punjagutta police arrested Dr Ghisulal Jain and Mr N.S. Sree Ramulu, President and General Secretary of the association, for forcing a medical shop to observe bandh near Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences.

Refusing to budge, the association announced that it would hold mass hunger strikes and dharnas. "We are also in touch with the all-India association to discuss the future course of action," Mr Vivek Jain, a Managing Committee member of the association, said. He hinted at a nation-wide token bandh by druggists in support of the strike. Meanwhile, the High Court asked the Government to get back to it on the measures initiated to deal with the druggists' strike.

The court was acting on petitions by the People for Effective and Economic Medicare and Mr Gopalakrishna Kalanidhi, an advocate.

A Division Bench comprising the acting Chief Justice Mr Bilal Nazki and Mr Justice G. Yethirajulyu said this was a serious situation and directed the Advocate General to report by Wednesday.

Addressing a press conference, Mr K. Ramakrishna, Minister for Commercial Taxes, said protection would be given to medical shop owners willing to sell medicines. "We will open outlets in Government hospitals to sell medicines," he said.

Mr Ramakrishna said the Bulk Drug Manufacturers Association had agreed to supply life saving drugs to the Government outlets.

At a separate press conference, Mr Vivek said the association had opened an emergency medicine point at King Koti. The association formed a task force to make medicines accessible to the needy. It also set up a helpline (23232348 and 55764037) in this regard.

Besides asking the Government to exclude medicines from VAT, the druggists were demanding that turnover tax (one of the VAT slabs) should be removed. "There should be a uniform implementation of VAT to ensure one-country one-price for any medicine," the druggists said.

One of the key demands was single point VAT. "VAT at single point will reduce prices by 4-5 per cent. Multi-point tax system will increase prices by 5-6 per cent."

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 6, 2005)
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