India’s Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers has announced that it will ask the Ministry of Law for an interpretation of a Supreme Court ruling given back in 2003, which required the government to establish the means to make essential and life-saving drugs more accessible.

The Ministry’s interpretation of the Court ruling, which forms the central proposal of the government’s draft National Pharmaceutical Policy 2006 (published in January), is that all 354 drugs included in the National List of Essential Medicines should be added to the 74 products whose prices are currently under cost-based control.

However, last month, the pharmaceutical industry announced that it did not accept the Ministry’s position, and that it would seek its own interpretation of the ruling from two former Chief Justices of India. The industry representatives, who believe that cost-based price controls would be extremely harmful for the industry’s growth and exports, said that the Court order had made no mention of cost-based price control, and did not state that the prices of all essential drugs need to be reduced. It is reported that the two former Chief Justices, Justice Khare (who, in fact, gave the ruling) and Justice Chadrachud, agree with the sector’s view.

The disagreement over the ruling has divided the committee, set up by the Ministry and consisting of 11 industry representatives and three Ministry officials, to examine alternative methods of making essential medicines more accessible. The panel is expected to present its report on September 30. By Lynne Taylor