Guest post by KALYANI MENON-SEN
The last few months have seen an unusual public engagement around questions of secularism, freedom of speech, sedition and the like, with furious debates everywhere from our campuses, streets and TV studios to the floor of Parliament. The budget session has been enlivened by scenes of high drama, with the leading lights of the Treasury benches bringing colour, sound and fury to their tutorials on patriotism and nationalism.
While these high-decibel histrionics have been appreciated and applauded by many, some unpatriotic elements are asking if they are designed to divert public attention away from behind-the-scenes negotiations and surreptitious deal-making that could undermine the rights and compromise the survival of millions of Indian citizens.
One such deal is now out in the open. In written submissions to the US Trade Representative, two US industry bodies (the US Chamber of Commerce and the US-India Business Council) have said that the Government of India has “privately reassured” them that it will not use the mechanism of compulsory licensing to allow commercial production of cheaper generic versions of patented medicines in India.
The note of gleeful triumph in this announcement is unmistakable. Ever since the present government came to power, US trade bodies and pharma industry bodies have stepped up their attack on India’s patent system and demanded the dismantling of safeguards that protect citizens’ rights from being sacrificed to commercial concerns. The provision for compulsory licensing, empowering the government to override patents and allow the marketing of generic medicines in the public interest, is a prime target for this attack. Also in the firing line are measures to prevent patent holders from dragging out their monopoly by “evergreening” (making changes that do not enhace the therapeutic value of a product and patenting it anew), and allowing third parties (such as consumer groups or generic manufacturers) to challenge and oppose patent applications before they are finally granted. Continue reading Patented Patriotism: Kalyani Menon-Sen