Bengal Chemicals, India’s oldest pharma company, set to make hydroxychloroquine

Published : April 10, 2020 22:16 IST

Bengal Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals Ltd (BPCL), India’s oldest pharmaceutical company, is set to produce hydroxychloroquine after receiving the licence to do so from the Directorate of Drugs Control, Government of West Bengal, on April 10.

Though the company has been given the go-ahead to produce hydroxychloroquine 200 and hydroxychloroquine 400, it cannot start production immediately owing to lack of raw materials at its disposal. The management has appealed to both the Centre and the State government to help the company get the necessary materials. According to the Managing Director of BPCL, P.M. Chandraiah, the company’s factory in Kolkata has the capacity to produce as much as 10 lakh tablets a day.

The licence has come as a shot in the arm for the public sector undertaking which has for long been under the Central government’s radar for disinvestment, even though it had turned profitable in 2016 after spending more than five decades in the red. “This is a huge development for us. All of us workers are delighted that we can start making hydroxychloroquine. But we need the raw materials first, otherwise the State government’s act of giving us the licence is just an eyewash for the public,” Mrinal Roy Chowdhury, general secretary of the CITU-affiliated Bengal Chemicals Sramik Karmachari Union, told Frontline. Roy Chowdhury also feels that the company’s present workforce is not enough to produce at the optimum level. “New recruitments have to be made,” he said.

BPCL was set up by Prafulla Chandra Ray, the “father of Indian chemistry” and a pioneering figure in the world education, in 1892. At that time it was known as Bengal Chemical Works. In 1901 it was made into a limited company and renamed Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceutical Works Ltd. In 1980, the company was nationalised and continued under the new name Bengal Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals Ltd. In 1992, the company was referred to the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR), but by 2016, to the surprise of everyone, it registered a net profit. For the last three years BPCL has been profitable.

The company was back in the news after media reports revealed that it had the capacity and the knowhow to produce the much-required hydroxychloroquine, but was getting neither the licence nor the orders from the government.