(Eds: Adds details) Mumbai, Apr 18 (PTI) Mumbai police questioned a pharma company director following information that thousands of vials of the Remdesivir drug critical in coronavirus treatment were to be flown out of the country, an official said on Sunday.
Police said they had information that the Remdesivir stock was going to be flown abroad by air cargo, despite a ban on the export of the drug.
The appearance of top Maharashtra BJP leaders late at night at the BKC police station after the director was grilled has further intensified the political slugfest between the Shiv Sena-led regime in the state and the BJP over handling of the pandemic and paucity of critical healthcare supplies.
Police on Saturday night questioned Rajesh Dokania, director of Bruck Pharma, a Daman-based pharmaceutical manufacturing company that manufactures Remdesivir vials.
Dokania was called for questioning from his home in north Mumbai suburb Kandivali by Ville Parle police around 8.30 pm and allowed to return around midnight.
Police had information that at least 60,000 Remdesivir vials are being exported through air cargo, a police official told PTI.
As the Remdesivir quantity was large, police decided to question the company director to know about the drug stock.
'He had stocked at least 60,000 vials. The government had allowed him to sell the stock meant for export in the domestic market due to scarcity of the drug,' the official said.
'We acted in the good faith as such a huge stock can serve the need of the patients here (in Maharashtra) too,' DCP Manjunath Singe said.
The opposition BJP in Maharashtra objected to the pharma executive's grilling by Mumbai police, saying the state government was playing politics amid the pandemic.
It now appears that the stock had been arranged by the BJP for distribution in Maharashtra.
On learning that Dokania was being questioned, former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and another state BJP leader Praveen Darekar rushed to the police station.
They said the Maharashtra unit of the BJP had taken the initiative to reach out to various pharma companies due to the shortage of Remdesivir. 'It was our sincere attempt to get Remdesivar for Maharashtra,' Fadnavis said.
'Four days ago we had requested Bruck Pharma to supply us Remdesivir but they couldn't until permission was given. I spoke to Union minister Mansukh Mandaviya and we got FDA's permission,' Fadnavis said.
The BJP leader claimed that a Maharashtra minister's officer on special duty called the pharma executive and asked him how he could provide Remdesivir on the appeal of opposition parties.
The pharma director was picked up from his house by 10 policemen, Fadnavis said, describing the action as 'beyond his imagination'.
The Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra Assembly said the state government was harassing the pharma company as BJP leaders had approached him for the supply of the antiviral medication to Maharashtra.
'We (BJP leaders) had contacted Bruck Pharma to supply the stock to Maharashtra as the state is facing a shortage of Remdesivir vials. We even informed the state FDA minister about it and approached the Union government seeking necessary permissions,' he said.
Some Maharashtra BJP leaders went to Daman recently to meet Bruck Pharma officials, requesting them to sell their exportable stock in Maharashtra, Fadnavis said.
'With shortage of #Remdesivir, last night @MumbaiPolice rightly fulfilled their duty to check any supply malpractices/hoarding. The real Q is: Can any BJP leader, without any info to State govt/Local authorities/Police, procure lakhs of lifesaving drugs @PMOIndia? It's a new low,' Maharashtra minister Jayant Patil tweeted.
Referring to Fadnavis' claim that the BJP bought that stock to distribute to people, activist Saket Gokhale wanted to know 'how did a private individual like Fadnavis procure Remdesivir stock from Gujarat when the sale is allowed only to the government'.
'Why didn't Fadnavis inform the state govt of the supplier & help procure the stock through state channels? In the midst of a severe shortage, why was BJP hoarding 4.75 crores worth of Remdesivir in their party office (just like in Gujarat)?' Gokhale tweeted.
'And most importantly - while @nawabmalikncp ji showed yesterday that Central govt had stopped supplies of Remdesivir to Maharashtra govt, then how was BJP's Fadnavis allowed to procure it sneakily without informing the state govt? That too stock worth 4.75 crores?' he tweeted.
The political slugfest started on Saturday morning when Maharashtra minister and NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik alleged the Centre was pressurising some Remdesivir producers to not sell their stock in Maharashtra.
Joining state BJP leaders, two Central ministers hit back at the Maharashtra government, calling these allegations 'a lie' and termed them an attempt to politicise the pandemic.
Fadnavis said, 'Malik and some ministers have nothing to do with the troubles of people suffering from coronavirus pandemic. They are more interested in indulging in politics.' Malik on Sunday wondered why were top BJP leaders in Maharashtra 'rushing to help' the pharma company director.
'Are they his lawyers,' he added. PTI DC ND VT VT VT