Coronavirus stretches supply chains: NITI Aayog seeks suggestions to promote self reliance

Prabha Raghavan
NITI Aayog, Pharmaceutical sector, novel coronavirus, coronavirus impact on Pharmaceutical sector, Indian express

Some of those in attendance declined to comment on whether the meeting was called as a result of the recent outbreak of the virus in China. (File)

As the Finance Ministry rushes to assess the impact of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) on India’s industries, the pharmaceutical sector’s imports of crucial ingredients to make medicines is once again in focus. A meeting was held on Wednesday at government think tank NITI Aayog on India’s dependence on imports of “critical” active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), with the government seeking inputs from the industry on the “various options” that could be explored to make the country self reliant, The Indian Express has learnt.

Some of those in attendance declined to comment on whether the meeting was called as a result of the recent outbreak of the virus in China. India is heavily dependent on the neighbouring country for key ingredients used to make certain vitamins and antibiotics. “The meeting was to understand how we can reduce the dependency on other countries. The government wants to take measures to further support the industry,” said a senior official, present at the meeting.

“The industry has given some suggestions on environmental concerns and financial incentives — some subsidies. The Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) will examine this. The government is proactive in supporting the industry,” the official told The Indian Express. As per the official, the government is currently finalising a list of nearly 60 APIs, including ones for diabetic drugs like metformin and antibiotics like azithromycin, where India is “mostly dependent” on China. The government wants to encourage the industry to become self sufficient in producing these, the official said.

“We’ve identified some APIs and some intermediates along with that...these APIs are of national interest and we need to be self-dependent in them,” said VV Krishna Reddy, national president, Bulk Drugs Manufacturers Association (BDMA), who was present at the meeting.

According to him, the discussions focussed on developing a “broad outline” to strengthen domestic manufacturing of these APIs. The goal is to make India a potential hub for global supply of these products, he said. This included strengthening the country’s API parks, which are still under construction, according to him.

“We, as an industry, would be willing to set up plants that have world-scale production in terms of the quantity that is to be produced. We should be self sufficient not only in terms of the APIs but the intermediates also,” he said.

Another industry executive present at the meeting said that reducing timelines for environmental clearances for manufacturers also figured in the discussions.

While it is speculated that the DoP is moving to ban exports of some APIs and formulations during the outbreak, a senior official within the department told The Indian Express that “no such move” was being contemplated at the moment. However, the government is “observing the situation”, the official added.

According to government data, China accounted for nearly 67 per cent of India’s imports of bulk drugs in 2018.

The DoP, in May 2018, approved a scheme for the development of the pharmaceutical industry, with assistance to the bulk drug industry as one of its sub-schemes.

As of December 10, 2019, proposals to set up common facility centres in bulk drug parks were received from Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Telangana and Himachal Pradesh.