Vincent Panikurlangara v. Union of India and Ors

1987 AIR 990; 1987 SCR (2) 468; 1987 SCC (2) 165; JT 1987 (1) 610; 1987 SCALE (1) 490
Download Judgment: English
Country: India
Region: Asia
Year: 1987
Court: Supreme Court
Health Topics: Medicines
Human Rights: Right to health, Right to life
Tags: Drug quality, Drug safety, Drug testing

The Petitioner, Vincent Panikurlangara, filed this public interest litigation in the Supreme Court. He sought directions for implementation of an adequate, central policy and establishment of a central drug standards authority, with suitable enforcement powers to ban “harmful and injurious drugs.”

Sections 10-A and 26-Aof the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 (the Act) conferred on the Central government the power to prohibit import, manufacture, sale and distribution of drugs and cosmetics in public interest. Due to an interim direction from a legal challenge to s.26-A of the Act, the Government was temporarily frustrated from enforcing the ban. Additionally, The Drugs and Consultative Committee (The Committee) constituted under the Act, appointed a subcommittee, which screened and prepared a list of harmful drugs to be banned from Indian medicine markets; however the banned drugs often remained prevalent in the market.

The Petitioner sought an order to force the relevant Central and State Government authorities to maintain medicine standards whilst controlling importing, manufacture and sale of medicines, and banning “harmful and injurious” medicines. This petition was based on Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to life, “which includes medical attention and a life free from diseases.”

Regarding the role of statutory bodies in proceedings before the Supreme Court, the Court held Article 144 of the Constitution mandated statutory bodies to aid the Court. The Court noted that as the “entire nation” was concerned it was held to be sufficiently important for the States to be obliged to join the matter. Further, as direct invitations were provided by the Court to the relevant State authorities, there was no excuse for not joining the matter.

Though the Court stated that it was for the Union Government to decide on questions of policy, it nevertheless opined that the State should make “useful drugs available at reasonable price so as to be within the common man's reach.”

Furthermore, the Court held that the law must be enforceable by punishment, if necessary, to ensure adequate medicine standards were maintained. The Court did not rule on the banning of specific medicines because, as the Court noted, the proceeding was “not an appropriate one for such purpose”.

Enunciating the role of the State in reference to the health of its citizenry, the Court held that in a welfare state, the State should create conditions conducive to good health. It held that the State had an obligation to enforce production of quality drugs, eliminate injurious ones from the medicines market and provide a drug policy.

The Court held that Article 21 drew its “life breath” from Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP). The context of fundamental rights is informed by DPSP especially Articles, 39, 41 and 42 of the Constitution implying that the Government was obliged to ensure that all citizens enjoyed basic necessities, including the right to health and provision of educational facilities in order to live a life of freedom and dignity.

In particular, the Court held that there was a breach of DPSP in Article 47 of the Constitution, which establishes the duty of the State “to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.” The Court further noted that the “maintenance and improvement of public health . . . [was] indispensible to the very physical existence of the community”.

“[Article 47] has laid stress on improvement of public health and prohibition of drugs injurious to health as one of the primary duties of the State.” (1987) 2 SCR 468, pg. 478.

“[M]aintenance and improvement of public health have to rank high as these are indispensable to the very physical existence of the community and on the betterment of these depends the building of the society of which the Constitution makers envisaged. Attending to public health, in our opinion, therefore, is of high priority--perhaps the one at the top.” (1987) 2 SCR 468, pg. 478.

“Such drugs as are found necessary should be manufactured in abundance and availability to satisfy every demand should be ensured. Undue competition in the matter of production of drugs by allowing too many substitutes should be reduced as it introduces unhealthy practice and ultimately tends to affect quality. The State's obligation to enforce production of qualitative drugs and elimination of the injurious ones from the market must take within its sweep an obligation to make useful drugs available at reasonable price so as to be within the common man's reach. That would involve regulating the price.” (1987) 2 SCR 468, pg. 479.