A Dhaka court acquitted all five officials of Rid Pharmaceuticals Ltd in a case filed over the manufacture of toxic paracetamol syrup that killed 28 children across Bangladesh in 2009. As per the court, the acquittal happened because the charges brought against the accused could not be proven due to the 'incapability and inefficiency' of the investigator. In a sensational case like this, an utter failure of the drug administration as the prosecutor was very unfortunate and ominous as well.
In Bangladesh, the Drugs Act 1940 and the Drugs (Control) Ordinance 1982 deal with the quality assurance of drugs consumed by the public in general. However, of the two the one made in 1940 has almost lost its application and says nothing about adulteration. And the Ordinance deals with the adulteration of drugs. It tries the adulterators of medicine, but here too, it cleverly overlooks the incidents like death or disabilities caused by such adulterated drugs.
Under section 16(c) and proviso attached to it, it merely prescribes the punishment (of maximum ten years or two lakh taka fine or both) for causing adulteration of drugs. Any implements used in the manufacture or sale of such medicine or drug may, by order of the Drug Court, be forfeited by the government. But, this section does not mention anything about the death or disabilities caused by using such drugs. The essence of enacting this law is almost underestimated by section 22 which states that 'no Drug Court shall take cognizance of an offence punishable under this Ordinance except on a report in writing made by the licensing authority or an officer authorised by him in this behalf'. This law should contain provisions for the public, in general, empowering them also to file the complaint in the Drugs Courts as well.
We have another law which deals with adulteration of drugs, namely the Special Powers Act 1974. Section 25C(1)(c) and (d) prescribes death penalty as the maximum penalty for such offence. But due to such harsh sanction, cases are rarely filed under this provision.
While we are blaming the drug administration system for not performing its duties, at the same time we need to scrutinise whether the administration has the skilled manpower, proper equipment, and training to conduct criminal investigation. Here the complainant and investigator is the same person!
It is admittedly true that the administration has no training like the police or the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to conduct the investigation into a case. The case of the toxic paracetamol syrup that killed 28 children in 2009 filed by the drug administration for murdering people could have been investigated by the police department or CID as the police/CID-investigated cases see successful prosecution in most of the times.
It is true that we had not had any instance of conviction for drug adulteration in Bangladesh. Back in July 2014, a Dhaka Drug Court awarded 10 years' rigorous imprisonment to an owner and two officials of Adflame Pharmaceuticals in a case filed over the deaths of 76 children by adulterated drugs in 1990. Later on 17 August 2015, a Dhaka Drug Court punished six BCI Pharmaceuticals officials – three directors and three managers – for 10 years in prison for producing and marketing spurious paracetamol syrups.
We have to admit that the existing laws are insufficient in terms of bringing to book people involved in adulterating drugs. Therefore, we urge the government to amend these laws, break the evil nexus between these drug manufacturers and take other necessary steps relating to investigation process.
The writer is a faculty at United International University.