9 Jan 2023 11:57 AM GMT
Update: Bharat Biotech’s Allegations Against Me, Thakur Foundation Are False And Defamatory: Prashant Reddy To Delhi High CourtDuring the hearing of pleas related to the RTI requests for disclosure of information regarding procurement, funding and purchase of COVID-19 vaccines by Central Government, Bharat Biotech on Monday argued before the Delhi High Court that the...
Update: Bharat Biotech’s Allegations Against Me, Thakur Foundation Are False And Defamatory: Prashant Reddy To Delhi High Court
During the hearing of pleas related to the RTI requests for disclosure of information regarding procurement, funding and purchase of COVID-19 vaccines by Central Government, Bharat Biotech on Monday argued before the Delhi High Court that the authors of The Truth Pill Prashant Reddy T. and Dinesh Thakur are working "contrary to India's interests".
The submission was made before Justice Prathiba M Singh during the hearing of the petitions moved by Reddy challenging the orders passed by CIC upholding the non-disclosure of the information by the CPIOs of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Indian Council of Medical Research and Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council. The CPIOs claimed that disclosure of the information was exempted under sections 8(1)(a) and 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act.
During the hearing today, Reddy’s counsel submitted that in order for exemption under sections 8(1)(d) of RTI Act to be attracted, some authority ought to peruse the documents concerned in order to establish if they contain any information relating to trade secrets, commercial confidence or not.
On the other hand, the counsel appearing for Bharat Biotech took a preliminary objection and placed on record a notice issued to Reddy on October 15, 2022 by MoHFW through Central Drugs Standards Control Organizations.
The notice was issued after an interview given by Reddy and Thakur was published in India Today making certain statements regarding the role of the CDSCO and about the drug licensing regime in India.
The notice stated that responses in the interview were made with the “sole intention to malign CDSCO and the Central Government” and to capitalize upon unfortunate incident in Gambia “for a few moments of media attention.”
Bharat Biotech’s counsel alleged that Reddy and Thakur are working "contrary to India's interests" and therefore the said notice was issued to them.
“The government of India has issued a show cause notice to the petitioner for causing misinformation on COVID. In fact, he is in the habit of abusing the judges who are looking into with COVID-19 cases,” Bharat Biotech’s counsel submitted.
Taking the court through the notice, the counsel submitted: “The party no. 2 is the petitioner herein and it is concerning an article which the petitioner wrote with one Dinesh Thakur ... which is another bigger conspiracy. Whenever there is a vaccine or COVID, they have a habit of filing case after case and it has been repeatedly. Even before the Supreme Court, they have a habit of filing cases and writing articles which is written with misleading information and wrong information.”
Adding to the same, Anurag Ahluwalia appearing for the Central Government requested the court to look at the tone and tenor of the statements made in the interview.
”This is deplorable the way it has been done” Ahluwalia said. He added: “How many times the CDSCO issues a notice like this? How many times?”
Calling the allegation as a “complete red herring”, Reddy’s counsel submitted that Bharat Biotech’s counsel was trying to mislead the court.
“This has nothing to do with COVID, I'm so sorry. This has to do with the deaths of children in Gambia on account of Indian cough syrup…. I'm completely shocked because it has nothing to do with this case," the counsel said.
The counsel appearing for Bharat Biotech submitted that there are judicial orders directing Reddy to take down the publications which is sponsored by his Foundation.
“He runs an organization called Thakur Foundation, which funds articles to be written against my company and the government of India for the COVID war which they are fighting as we say,” the counsel alleged.
Reddy’s counsel submitted that the information in question, as raised in the pleas, is in public domain in foreign countries. It was therefore submitted that the reliance on the exemption under section 8(1)(d) of RTI Act is completely untenable and misplaced.
Hearing the parties, Justice Singh asked the parties to place on record a copy of notice along with the relevant documents.
The court also impleaded the MoHFW and Bharat Biotech as party respondents to the two pleas as they were only named in one of the pleas.
“Let the amended memo of parties in all these petitions be filed within one week,” the court ordered while listing the matter for hearing in March.
One of the pleas has been filed against an order passed by Central Information Commission (CIC) on October 10, 2022, allowing the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to withhold disclosure of the purchase orders for COVID-19 vaccines.
The second plea seeks direction for disclosure of a copy of the collaboration agreement entered with Bharat Biotech and a breakup of costs and investments relating to COVAXIN under the RTI Act.
The third plea seeks the copy of funding agreements entered with Gennova and Bharat Biotech as well as the total amount of funds that have been disbursed so far.
In his pleas moved through Advocate N. Sai Vinod, Reddy has placed reliance on a 2009 full bench decision of CIC in Navroj Mody v. Mumbai Port Trust which held that "mere fact of the presence of the confidentiality provision in the License Agreement was a sufficient condition to keep the Agreement secret, /is/ untenable." It was held in the decision that the terms of public-private partnership agreement cannot be exempted under section 8(1)(d) of RTI Act.
The petitioner has also averred that the refusal to provide the said information denies the right of public to know about the basic terms of the partnership, especially those relating to responsibilities of contracting entities, important milestones and timelines, vaccine pricing, warranties and immunities.
The plea also states that the agreement concerning research and development of COVID-19 vaccine is distinct from commercial aspects relating to vaccine procurements and vaccinations, adding that the ICMR has failed to identify the detrimental nature of adverse effect on vaccinations from disclosure.
Advocate Sughosh Subramanyam assisted by Advocates Aditya Aditya and Shobit Ahuja represented Bharat Biotech
Title: Prashant Reddy T. v. Union of India & Another and other connected matters
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