Despite being part of essential services, production of pharmaceuticals in the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh industrial belt of Himachal Pradesh has suffered a blow following the lockdown with many units, especially MSMEs, suspending operations or running at sub-optimal capacity.
According to employees in the industry, disruptions in allied services such as supply of raw materials, transport, packaging and stringent lockdown conditions have led to a drastic decline in pharmaceutical manufacturing.
Rajeev Gupta, president of the Himachal Drug Manufacturers’ Association, said the overall output of the pharmaceutical industry has dipped below 25 per cent, and 70 per cent of the units in the state are running with a workforce capacity of 25 per cent or below.
“Following the Janata Curfew, we voluntarily shut down all units for a few days. After resuming work, the government has been supportive, but the allied industries such as logistics have been disrupted. Raw materials are mostly transported from other states and many of the employees come from the Tricity, but it has been a different story since the borders were sealed,” he said.
D K Tiwari, managing director of Tiwari Chemicals, said production in his plant has fallen by more than 90 per cent because of lack of raw materials and active pharmaceutical ingredients, or APIs. “While large plants may buy APIs in bulk, most MSMEs buy small stocks of raw materials on a daily basis as per their needs. For example, for formulating Crocin from paracetamol API, around 40 other ingredients are needed. How do we get those?” he asked.
Dheeraj Singh from Adore Life Sciences said the pharmaceutical industry has a high dependence on allied services. “The packaging industry is shut down, and is located in neighbouring Tricity and Haryana. Raw materials come from Mumbai, Delhi and Chandigarh. Even for units which have resumed operations, it would be difficult to sustain operations beyond a week if the situation does not change,” he said.
According to Gupta, all the plants have been asked to ensure shelter for the workforce in the premises of the unit, and many units have suspended production due to shortage of housing capacity. “We have requested the Centre to develop a mechanism to solve these issues so that manufacture of essential drugs is not hit. We have also asked them to pay 50 per cent share of the ESI funds to the workers during the period of crisis,” he added.
On Monday, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur asked officials of the industries department to “ensure proper functioning of industrial units engaged in pharmaceutical and food processing so that there was no scarcity of life-saving drugs”. He also asked the department to ensure that the management of industrial units provide salary to the workers without any delay and said that the resumption of manufacturing would also help in redressing the issue of exodus of workers.
Officials said several new plants have started the manufacture of sanitisers after speedy grant of licences by the licensing authority.
Since January, the pharmaceutical industry had also been facing the issue of shortage of APIs imported from China. A report by Care Ratings Ltd on the industry-wise impact of COVID-19 released on Monday said that due to control of the outbreak in China, factories producing bulk drugs or APIs have restarted, though with limited capacity.