Mashelkar, The Indian Express and me

I guess like many in this blog, I have a sadomasochistic relationship to the Indian Express. I hate the neo-liberal campaign strategy of the Express and cannot stand its crass advocacy of a bizarre ‘let the market decide’ logic, but, and this is important – secretly enjoy its city reporting. Its strange coverage on the Mashelkar report falls squarely in the first – neo-liberal advocacy.  A quick recap.

Some days ago activists Chan Park and Achal Prabhala ‘outed’ the report of the Mashelkar committee. Essentially the report gave a thumbs up to the international pharma industry in its recommendations. Not surprising – given the current climate, the power of lobbyists, and rule by ‘expert’ committee. (Though neo-liberal rhetoric targets the state, it works perfectly through it). Anyway Park and Prabhala showed that so eager was the committee to please the international industry that it copied verbatim a part of the submission made by Shamnad Basheer, whose own research had been supported by a consortium of multinational firms. This is what Park and Prabhala write about the Mashlekar innovations:

It is surprising then that most of the conclusions with respect to new chemical entities (half the exercise of the entire report) have been extracted verbatim from a paper published earlier in 2006 by the IP Institute, a UK-based industry think tank.
Its author, Shamnad Basheer, identifies his funding for the paper as coming from Interpat “a Swiss association of major European, Japanese and US research-based pharmaceutical companies”.
Basheer waxed jubilant about the Mashelkar report on his blog: “A very sensible suggestion to me not least because these conclusions were extracted from a report that I submitted to the committee…
It flatters one to know that the extraction happened verbatim, though I would have been happier had the committee cited the source…” So let’s get this straight.
A committee of five renowned experts takes one and a half years to deliberate over a patent law issue that’s crucial to millions of people, and finally produces a report whose conclusions are lifted, without acknowledgement, from a paper funded by the multinational pharmaceutical industry.
We couldn’t make this up if we tried. Consequently, it’s difficult for us to take this report seriously. But we shall try. India’s patent law has provisions to prevent ‘ever greening’. If a patent is sought on an improvement, that improvement must actually make the medicine more effective.
As logical as this may seem, it is not in the interests of multinationals though India could have set patent standards even higher, since TRIPs explicitly leaves this flexibility in sovereign hands.
The Mashelkar report’s twisted logic conveniently overlooks these flexibilities, even the judgment of the WTO on this matter. Now, the multi-national pharmaceutical lobby is planning to use this same twisted logic to cast doubt on the few protections that are in place in existing law.
There are millions who need cheap medicines from India in order to stay alive. Mashelkar’s ‘national interest’, however, is a fantasy that refers to something else: the Indian pharmaceutical industry. Nothing wrong with this, except that the report’s purported beneficiaries don’t agree with their benefactor.
The Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, representing the domestic pharmaceutical sector, has slammed the conclusions of the Mashelkar report as not in their interests. What’s more, it recently intervened in a legal case currently pending in the Madras high court to defend the validity of a provision in the Patents Act that sets stricter patent criteria.
Challenging this provision is pharmaceutical giant Novartis. Coincidentally, Novartis is a financial contributor to Interpat. Mashelkar’s report is among the first attempts to dent an already compromised patent system.

Read the whole article in the Times of India. Also check the significant archive set up by the Alternative Law Forum on the Mashelkar controversy. Interestingly, the Mashelkar report was used as supportive evidence by the Swiss multinational Novartis AG in a Chennai court in its bid to challenge the current patents law in India.

Back to the Express. Curiously or perhaps perfectly so, the Express story highlighted Mashelkar’s ‘anguish’, and that he was withdrawing the report because of allegations of plagiarism – he blamed it to a last minute ‘slip’. Not a word about the connection to the MNC lobby.

That’s the Express for you. But the whole episode gave me a good feeling. In these bizarre times, one neo-liberal idol has fallen, many more to follow.

2 thoughts on “Mashelkar, The Indian Express and me”

  1. Meanwhile in the `Indian’ pharmaceutical industry…

    `Ranbaxy Laboratories, the biggest member of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA), has come out in the open against the alliance’s stand on patent issues.

    The company has come out against the IPA for questioning the legal
    basis of former CSIR chief RA Mashelkar’s claim that limitation of
    patentability to “new chemical entities (NCE)” is beyond the scope of
    TRIPS flexibilities approved by the World Trade Organisation.
    Mashlekar was the head of the expert group on patent laws.

    Though the IPA maintained that the decision was “unanimous,” a Ranbaxy spokesperson said the company had opposed the IPA stand on all occasions.

    Ramesh Adige, executive director, corporate affairs, informed Business Standard: “Ranbaxy is of the strong opinion that incremental
    inventions should be patented. However, we oppose patenting frivolous
    inventions. As Mashelkar rightly pointed out, rules should be very
    clear to see that frivolous patents are not granted. Rules should be
    very clear, and guidelines should be framed so that patent officials
    can differentiate between frivolous patents and incremental patents.
    The three-way test for patentability should be novelty, innovation and commercial utility,” …’

    In the run-up to the Patents Amendment Act of 2005, the
    pharma sector was convulsed with debates, splits and changes of
    position by various companies. Their positions were based on their
    business strategies in a fast-changing market environment. The market is increasingly not just Indian but global. The `Indian’ content of the `Indian’ pharmaceutical sector is changing. The home market is used by corporates, with the valuable help of their cronies in Government, as a bargaining chip in their new accumulation strategies. These strategies involve both conflict and collaboration with MNCs and governments of their home countries.

    Meanwhile at home but not in the home market…

    `Twenty-eight-year old Prakash is in police custody hours after stealing over Rs three lakh on Wednesday. He stole the money from an electricity board official to take care of his wife, a TB patient. But when Prakash reached home, he found his wife dead. Soon after, he surrendered to the police and returned the money. Back home neighbours are in a state of shock. Prakash is a small time electrician and the family’s tiny quarter is now empty. Their 10-month old baby is with Prakash’s brother but her future is uncertain.’ (NDTV, Thursday, December 28, 2006 (Surat))

    Three cheers for `national interest’!!


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