JAMMU: In a major setback to Jammu and Kashmir administration, the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed an appeal filed by it, against an order of the National Human Rights Commission to pay compensation of Rs 3 lakh each to kin of 12 children who died in Ramnagar tehsil of Udhampur district due to consumption of spurious cough syrup.
A bench of Justices M R Shah and M M Sundresh said officers were found to be negligent and it does not find any reason to interfere in the matter.
“Your officers are found to be negligent. They ought to have been vigilant. Don’t compel us to say things about food and industry department. The health of citizens is in their hands. They don’t perform duties at all. They can’t play with the lives of citizens. It is their duty to check and verify things,” the bench observed.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by the Jammu and Kashmir administration challenging the March 3, 2021, order of the high court which had dismissed its plea against the NHRC order.
The Killer Syrup
Twelve children aged from 11 months to 4 years died in Ramnagar area of Udhampur district between mid-December 2019 to mid-January 2020, after they consumed a Himachal Pradesh made cough syrup called Coldbest-PC.
A Jammu-based social activist Sukesh C Khajuria had taken up the matter with the NHRC, following which the Himachal Pradesh government had suspended the licence of manufacturing firm–Digital Vision Pharmaceuticals, and also booked the company under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act that carry a minimum punishment of 10 years.
However, dissatisfied with the official response to the tragedy, Khajuria had filed a complaint on April 3, 2020, seeking NHRC’s intervention for action against the delinquent government officials and compensation to the aggrieved families who have lost their children.
Khajuria had contended that the ramnagar incident was not an isolated incident but such incidents of deaths of infants due to spurious drugs and medicines have been reported from various parts of the country for the past four decades. But unfortunately, the people responsible for such brazen criminal activities and government officials responsible have gone scot free, while demanding compensation to the families of infant victims.
The NHRC later found procedural lapses on the part of the Drugs Department. The Commission held Jammu and Kashmir vicariously liable for the lapses on part of the department and recommended compensation of Rs 3 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased in March 2021.
It was against this order that the Jammu and Kashmir government went to High Court, but was denied relief, before it filed an appeal in the Supreme Court.
After pressure mounted on it from NHRC and Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare alike, the Jammu and Kashmir government had last year agreed to release Rs 36 Lakh as compensation but the release was subject to the outcome of the Special Leave Petition (SLP) pending before the Supreme Court, which was decided today.
In an order issued on November 16 last year, the J&K Health and Medical Education Department accorded sanction to the release of Rs 36 lakh for 12 infant victims of spurious drugs in Ramnagar following approval by the Administrative Council headed by Lt Governor Manoj Sinha in its meeting held on October 7.
“The department has ordered the release of the compensation amount to the State Drug Controller for further payment as a special and exceptional infant mortality case subject to the outcome of the Special Leave Petition (SLP) pending before the Supreme Court,” the order issued by Additional Chief Secretary, Vivek Bharadwaj had read.
With the matter being decided today, the 12 bereaved families will now be compensated with Rs 3 lakh each.