The Ministry of Railways has written to the Department for Promotion of Industry & Internal Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, seeking exemption for procuring certain medical items manufactured outside India, particularly medicines used in the treatment of COVID-19, cancer, etc.
The issue was first flagged in August 2020 by Northern Railway, which formally wrote to the Railway Board, expressing difficulty in procuring drugs and surgical items in the light of the latest ‘Make in India’ policy. It said that certain drugs used in cancer treatment were manufactured outside India but available in the Indian market through agents or dealers.
Besides a surgical implant, the letter said that suppliers of anti-viral medicines used for the treatment of COVID-19, and even the vaccine for the coronavirus, may not fall under the Class-I or Class-II categories, which is required for purchases under the new ‘Make in India’ guidelines.
“The uninterrupted supply chain of these medicines and medical items are essential in the human life saving category and providing satisfactory health care to all railway employees and their family members. In the existing ‘Make in India’ policy, there is no window available to procure such items from the suppliers who may not meet the Local Content Criteria required for Class-I and Class-II Local Supplier category. It is therefore proposed to seek exemption to procure such medicines and medical items from Indian Market from ‘non-local suppliers’…,” the letter said.
Going by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade’s (DPIIT) norms, Class-I is a local supplier or service provider whose goods, services or works offered for procurement have local content equal to or more than 50%, while Class-II is a supplier or service provider whose goods, services or works offered for procurement have local content of more than 20% but less than 50%. Only these two categories of suppliers shall be eligible to bid in the procurement of all goods, services or works and with estimated value of purchases of less than ₹200 crore.
On December 3, 2020, the Ministry of Railways communicated to the Principal Chief Materials Manager heading Purchases that the DPIIT had informed the issue had been forwarded to the Department of Pharmaceuticals and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, being the nodal agencies for Pharmaceuticals, Medical Devices and Equipment.
The DPIIT had also informed that procurement of imported items through Indian agents/ traders amounted to indirect violation of the general finance rules and hence, it was not recommended and advised to get specific relaxation for procurement of such medicines/ medical equipment from the Secretary (Coordination), Cabinet Secretariat.
It further went on to add that the Secretary (Coordination), Cabinet Secretariat, in a meeting held on November 10, 2020, had directed that the purpose of seeking relaxation was to achieve indigenisation of the items that were presently not being manufactured in the country. “It is felt that the above objective is defeated in case the subject relaxation is granted,” the DPIIT noted.
However, the Ministry of Railways was advised to exercise the powers conferred under Para 14 of the ‘Make in India’ policy guidelines with the approval of the Minister in-charge to seek relaxation in any particular procurement, if required.
Indian Railways, one of the largest employers in the country with over 12 lakh employees, has its own network of healthcare infrastructure, including super speciality hospitals in all Zonal Headquarters.