Opinion

Ministry matters

R Srinivasan | Updated on January 19, 2018

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Pharma sector needs its own ministry

For a country which is a major global player in the global pharmaceuticals sector and whose prowess in generic formulations is feared by the world’s pharmaceuticals behemoths, it may come as a surprise to many that India doesn’t have a full-fledged ministry for pharmaceuticals. Very few countries around the world actually possess such a ministry, but it is pretty astonishing in India where we have a ministry for practically every letter of the alphabet. That’s why the industry was relieved when the Modi government announced that it plans to finally free the department of pharmaceuticals from the overarching control of the ministry of chemicals and fertilisers (itself an odd combination — fertilisers are chemicals, but a far cry from the industrial chemicals the ministry is actually concerned with).

The industry is pleased, but is not readying to celebrate as yet, since the issue has not officially progressed beyond a statement by Fertiliser Minister Ananth Kumar at an industry conference in December, where he was quoted as saying that a separate pharmaceuticals and medical devices ministry would take shape by the end of calendar 2016.

Surprisingly, a significant part of the pharmaceuticals business which comes under alternative systems of medicine, already has its own ministry, the ministry of AYUSH (ayurveda, unani, siddha and homoeopathy). And the sector is doing pretty well too. AYUSH exports are growing at over 20 per cent per annum, almost double the growth rate in conventional (read western) pharma exports. And, while India’s total balance of trade in pharma exports is considerably shaved by the fact that we import about 85 per cent of our core pharma ingredients needed for the generics market from China, the AYUSH sector is doing relatively better, with exports (2013-14 figures) of over ₹15,000 crore compared to imports of just over ₹880 crore. The sector also has impressive infrastructure — 3,167 hospitals in the public sector alone, and 8,896 licensed drug manufacturing units.

Given the strict regulatory oversight under which the pharma sector must function, a dedicated ministry is long overdue.

Senior Associate Editor

Published on February 14, 2016

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