Arvind Subramaniam et al: Conflict of Interest Exposed




The United States is pushing India to dilute its patent laws. This is to help big pharma companies that manufacture medicines which Indian domestic companies produce at a fraction of the price under India’s patent laws.  Section 3 (D) of the Indian patent law which prevents monopolistic practices of big pharma companies through ”evergreening” of a product is on the hit list of big pharma companies.  So is Section 8, which requires applications for patents from foreign companies in India to go through certain procedures which are not to the liking of these companies. They want a free pass to the Indian pharma market.


The WTO recognized regime of “compulsory licensing” allows the government of any country to permit a company to produce a patented pharmaceutical product or use a manufacturing process without the consent of the patent holder, in the wider public interest.These include drugs for treating HIV/AIDS, diabetes and cancer. This has been used in India successfully in some cases.


Following Modi’s US visit, an institutional arrangement has been set up with the US through the constitution of a working group to take “appropriate decisions and hold technical level meetings as part of the trade policy forum.” The US companies have been making demands to dilute India’s patent laws. The working group gives them a platform to keep up permanent pressure for their demands.


How can a group which includes foreign representatives take decisions which will guide policy decision making in India?


But this is not all. There are significant areas where Modi Government appointees are known supporters of the pharma lobby. Here is where the conflict of interest comes up.


Today, the Chief Economic Adviser to the Modi Government in the Finance Ministry is Arvind Subramaniam. As recently as March 2015 he had submitted written testimony to a US Congressional Committee as part of the review process of various patent laws in different countries. In the testimony, Subramaniam had written: “If India does not address the problems created by compulsory licensing… the US should consider initiating WTO disputes against India…”.He recommended that, “India could consider eliminating the additional efficacy requirement for patentability in Section 3 D of its patent law” and that, “India could commit to stay Government initiated compulsory licenses.”


This batsman for Big Pharmas is now the Chief Economic Adviser to Government.


Another area of conflict of interest is in the new committee set up under the Industrial Policy and Promotion department of the Ministry of Industry. It has set up a panel to go into “the public interest ramifications of Intellectual Property Rights.” There is no need for this since India already has a clear IPR policy.


The new committee includes persons who have been active defenders of pharma interests. These include lawyer Pratibha Singh whose husband is the Addl Solicitor General and who runs a legal company which has represented MNCs like Gilead in the Patent Controllers office for patents for drugs which contravene Section 3 D of the Patents Act.


Another member is Dr. Unnat Pandit who is at present Deputy General Manager of the Pharma company, Cadilla. Yet another member is Punita Bhargava who runs legal services for companies in the field of property laws. Included in the committee is Narendra K. Sabharwal who is head of the IPR Committee of FICCI.


There is not a single academic or public health activist on the committee, not even from the Law Universities unlike the earlier committee, which was comprised of such experts, who are known to be impartial.


The Chief Economic Advisor has to answer: Does he or does he not support India’s patent laws which have been upheld in several cases against MNCs by the Supreme Court? Can he continue as Chief Advisor in spite of this obvious conflict of interests with India?


(This piece includes extracts from an article by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta published in the issue of Current dated March 23-29, 2015)