Members of the Assembly care when it comes to drug prices

Most of the members of the Assembly took care to attend the special discussion on the report of an Assembly committee on drug prices and related issue in the House on Thursday. There was unanimity in the House that the skyrocketing drug prices should be checked. The members cared when it came to health care and medicines.

They pressed the Health Minister V. S. Sivakumar to make it mandatory for doctors to prescribe drugs by their generic names and Mr. Sivakumar announced that it would be made mandatory for doctors in government hospitals. As to other doctors, he would have to seek legal opinion.

Ruling Front members even egged on the Minister to turn the Kerala Medical Services Corporation into a super store for bulk purchase and supply of drugs even to the private medical shops. But, Mr. Sivakumar appeared to reluctant; citing infrastructural, financial and logistical problems. However, he was forced to announce that the Health Secretary would be asked to examine the feasibility.

The two proposals, if implemented, would take the State a long way in checking drug prices.  Legally, a medical shop could now supply on the drug prescribed by the doctor. If it is by the brand name, he would have to supply that brand and not any of the alternatives. If prescription by generic name is introduced, it would give the consumer a choice. He can buy the brand and price level he chooses. (As of now, medicines are the only items over which the consumer has no choice.)

This would have an impact on prices as the price difference between various brands can be very high. Some branded drugs prescribed by the doctors could be several times higher than the generic variant. Now Internet sites such as PatientIndia are available that could help the consumer to make the choice by listing prices of the generic and branded drugs. Advice can also be received from the doctor regarding quality, but the final choice would be that of the patient.

If the Corporation enters the wholesale market in a big way, it would surely bring down prices provided that corruption in the organisation is checked. It can also help to check quality. It is imperative that the government would have to ensure quality of generic drugs when doctors start prescribing them.

For further reading:
Doctors to prescribe generic drugs in govt. hospitals

Proposal for five-day work week in Kerala

The proposal for five-day work week for government employees in Kerala is borne out of financial exigencies rather than any well-thought-out plan to improve administration.  As it stands now, the reduction of a work day result in poorer services for the public though there may be gain in terms of governmental expenditure in running the services. So, it would be lesser service to the public at lesser cost.

However, the situation could be qualitatively different if the government contemplates five-day week after efficiently implementing e-governance. Many of the government services could be offered to the citizen at lesser cost on a 24×7 basis if the e-governance system is expanded to cover more and more areas. Then curtailment of a work-day may not affect the public much.

As to the financial problems of the government, it is the governments own creation. It had created more than 15000 new posts in one year, adding to the burden of the exchequer.  Considerable sums are being spent for welfare though there is no assurance that it reaches the right hands. Government land is being granted for a pittance to the farmers and the landless and also to influential organisations. Many of these gifts are not justified.  This is when it has established schemes and ways for routing welfare assistance. The Government  indeed cared for the poor and disabled by raising the welfare and old age pensions which was a welcome measure. However, a casualty of the financial strain faced by the government was the noon meal scheme in schools.

Secretariat decked up for Onam holidays

Secretariat decked up for Onam holidays (file photo)

It is high time that the government focused on augmenting revenues from the flouring trade in gold, textiles and hospitality. Special concessions to the IT sector are no more needed. Government could either reduce expenditure or improve efficiencies by routing its subsidies in cash through the banks. It is also worth thinking whether government should maintain cars and drivers for its office or provide them with a car allowance. This, in fact, was one of the recommendations of a expenditure commission appointed by the government. Several such recommendations for austerity have been gathering dust.

UDF government courts controversies

The open sparring in the UDF over the lease of estates in Nelliampathy and the controversy over regularisation of conversion paddy fields have dented the image of ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala.

The Government Chief Whip P. C. George took cudgels against Forest Minister K. B. Ganesh Kumar for initiating steps for takeover of estates over expiry of lease or violation of lease conditions including sale or conversion of the estates. Mr. George’s contention is that the Forest Department is acting against farmers, meaning the estate owners.

Nelliampathy Estates

Nelliampathy Estates

Estate owners have been trying every trick in the book to prevent reversion of their estates. They have also gained support of a section of the UDF in favour of their efforts to retain the leases.  However, a section within the UDF is opposed to it. In fact, there was a section favouring the estate owners in the previous LDF government also. However, the CPI which was in charge of the Forest portfolio had favoured take over.  After the UDF government came to power, interested groups were working for change of policy and that yielded some results.

The fight in the UDF over the issue would not die down easily as much is at stake.

Similar is the situation on the question of reclamation and conversion of wet lands and paddy fields. Those attempting large scale conversions had received the support of a section of the previous government. Now, they were getting almost full support from the Cabinet with it approving a proposal to regularize pre-2005 conversions. This would have helped realtors and investors in resorts and other projects. However, opposition is growing in the UDF with V. M. Sudheeran and others openly speaking against the decision. What they are pointing at is obvious.

These controversies are accentuating dormant internal schisms in the front and could even threaten the cohesion of the government.


Mullaperiyar: Directive against disclosure of dam break analysis

Additional Chief Secretary (Water Resources) of Kerala K. Jayakumar (now the Chief Secretary) has directed that the Dam Break Analysis (Mullaperiyar dam to Idukki Reservoir) should be denied to applicants seeking copies of it under the Right to Information Act.

The Additional Chief Secretary cites Clause 8 (b) of the Act for denying the public copies of the dam break analysis. However, there is no such Clause in the Act. There is, however, a clause 1(b) under Section 8 which states that information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court could be denied to applicants. But, the Office of the Chief Engineer (Inter-State Waters) has failed to provide copies of any court order forbidding publication of the Analysis.

Order against disclosure of Mullaperiyar dam break analysis

Order against disclosure of Mullaperiyar dam break analysis

Moreover, the analysis in question has been placed before the Assembly, and so, it has become a public document in every sense of the term. Moreover, Water Resources Minister P. J. Joseph himself had held a press conference disclosing findings in the Analysis at Thodupuzha.

It is also notable that it is the practice world over to publicise results of dam break analysis and inundation studies so that the people are aware of the risks and safe areas. In some countries, it is mandatory to do such analysis and prepare evacuation plans at the time of construction of dams itself. These plans are always brought to the notice of the people and local authorities.

This blog has published map showing  area of submergence from the report of the Mullapeiryar Dam Break Analysis. Mullaperiyar Dam Break Analysis

The full report of the dam break analysis is at Expert-Eyes.Org
You may also want to  read: Mullaperiyar: behind the veil

Kerala: return of the jungle

Nature is reestablishing in several parts of Kerala State. Otters have made a comeback to the mangroves in the Asramam area of Ashtamudi Lake in Kollam district. Nilgiri tahr and tigers are sighted in forest areas where they had not been seen for long. Sholas are re-establishing in upper Palani plateau of the Western Ghats not far from Munnar. Several plants in lower elevations too are on a comeback trail. Tribals of Wayanad have harvested more honey this year suggesting that the statuses of the systems that support bees are apparently improving.

Nilgiri tahr

Nilgiri tahr (ibex) and kids photographed at Eravikulam National Park, Munnar, Kerala. Photo by Roy Mathew

The Nilgiri tahrs, protected in Eravikulam National Park, have re-established themselves on hilltops near Lockhart Gap and Adimali outside the sanctuary area in recent years. There are increasing numbers of tahrs in the Mukkurthi National Park in Tamil Nadu.  Near viable populations have been reported from a location near Ponmudi in Thiruvanathapuram district at an elevation of about 900 metres.

(Tahrs have also been reported from Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary and Silent Valley National Park and more than a dozen other   locations in Kerala.  Many locations in the Nilgiris, Pulneys and Anamalais of Tamil Nadu also have populations of Nilgiri tahr. Srivilliputhur Grizzled Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary, Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu are among the habitats of the tahr. They inhabit mountain slopes at altitudes ranging from 600 metres to 2600 metres.)

All these point to the fact that many species and ecosystems are resilient enough to make a comeback if adequate protection is accorded. However, the gains achieved in recent years could get reversed on account of climate change or laxity in protection.

For more information on Tahr population, see