(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 20, 2009
Mashelkar Committee Trips Again
Amit Sen Gupta
FOURTEEN years ago when
PATENT ORDINANCE 2004
Fast forward to early 2004. The then BJP-led
government had finalised the text of the amendments to the Indian
of 1970. Once
On December 26, 2004 a great tragedy lashed
UPA GOVT�S PLANS GO ASTRAY
But sometimes the best laid plans are known
astray. The Patent Amendment Ordinance of 2004 soon became the subject
widespread criticism. It was clear that the amendments would jeopardise
to new medicines for millions of Indians. A host of democratic
and concerned groups took to the streets, protesting against the
Demonstrations were organised not just in
Even this may not have made a difference, with the UPA still confident of support from the NDA. In March 2005 the situation turned when the BJP � with a view to embarrass the government � decided to oppose the ordinance in parliament (i.e. the BJP decided to oppose the text that its own government had prepared in 2004!). It was then that the UPA government was forced to negotiate with the Left parties, so as to avoid the embarrassment of a defeat on the floor of parliament. The CPI(M) led the Left parties in taking this opportunity to amend the text in the ordinance, so as to include the TRIPS flexibilities and thereby safeguard public health and access to medicines. The UPA government was forced into these negotiations with the Left and the final text of the amendments incorporated most of the suggestions made by the Left parties and other concerned groups. There were two issues, however, on which a consensus could not be arrived at. One pertained to further restrictions on patentability so that patents would be allowed only on �new chemical entities� and the other to barring of all patents on micro-organisms. The government made a commitment that these issues would be referred to an �expert group� and if necessary the Indian Act could be further amended. On the basis of this commitment, parliament passed the amendments to the Indian Patent Act.
The government set up a committee called the �Technical Expert Group (TEG) on Patent Laws�. We stop here to appreciate the dilemma that the UPA government was faced with. It had been forced to steer through parliament an Act that it did not agree with! For, if it were not for the conjuncture of circumstances described above, its preferred course would have been to enforce the much criticised 2004 Ordinance. Now the government went into a damage control mode. It chose, as chairperson of the expert group, Dr R G Mashelkar. The former director general of CSIR is lionised in some sections of the corporate controlled media as the person who modernised the apex scientific institution of the country. A more sober estimate of his tenure would indicate that he was instrumental in the corporatisation of CSIR. Also, importantly, he has been in the forefront of airbrushing the notion of patents and intellectual property rights, to present it as something that is good for Indian science and the Indian people.
In choosing Dr Mashelkar as chairperson, the
government perhaps calculated that the TEG would brush aside available
and rubber stamp the view that the Indian Patent Act did not need
amendments that would make patenting more difficult. The TEG or
Committee (as it was loosely termed) did not fail in this task. In
2006 the committee filed its report, which stated that no further
were necessary. Matters would have rested there, except for what the
termed as a �technical flaw�. Within days of submission of the report,
became public that the Mashelkar Committee report had copied, almost
from a submission made to the Committee by a
RESUBUMISSION OF REPORT
The public outcry forced Dr Mashelkar to resign as chairperson of the committee and the committee supposedly took back the report. What followed is shrouded in mystery. The website of the ministry of commerce continued to prominently display the discredited report. The government of the day did not comment on the status of the TEG. Then, in April 2009, it was reported that the TEG had �resubmitted� its report. The TEG, we learnt, had not changed in its composition in the intervening two years and Dr Mashelkar continued to be its chairperson!
The �resubmitted� report came to the identical conclusions as the report that was �taken back�. But to be fair, the plagiarised portions had been deleted and replaced by some new portions and substantial portions of the arguments had been rewritten. But, intellectual dishonesty is a hard act to renounce. The report quoted extensively from a paper written by Professor Carlos Correa, a very well know expert on Patent Laws. When the report was shown to Professor Correa he is understood to have said that his paper had been quoted out of context and further that he was of the view that an amendment to the Indian law, that further restricts patenting, is actually possible.
The issue at stake, however, goes far beyond individual dishonesty. It is a matter of concern that the report was resubmitted in April, 2009 when parliament had been adjourned. This seems a clear attempt to bypass the country�s elected representatives, more so on a matter that had been set in motion based on a promise made by the government on the floor of parliament. It is imperative that the issue be discussed again in parliament, and a reconstituted committee be mandated to opine afresh on the issues. Nothing less would suffice to restore the damage done to the credibility of the highest institution of the country.