Serious allegations are made against a Haridwar-based producer of Ayurvedic medicines on two counts - violation of labour laws and consumers' right to information.T.K. RAJALAKSHMI in HaridwarV.V. KRISHNAN Yoga guru Ramdev.
A CONTROVERSY involving yoga and pranayama guru Ramdev and Rajya Sabha member and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat hogged the headlines in the first two weeks of January. Even as some news reports whipped up sentiments in the name of `protecting' Ayurveda and Indian culture, they obfuscated the real issues - violation of labour laws and consumers' right to information.
It all began with Brinda Karat and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) championing the cause of 115 workers dismissed from the Divya Yog Mandir Trust, Kankhal, Haridwar, owned by Ramdev. She went on to raise the issue of consumers' right to know what all went into the making of the Ayurvedic medicines they bought from the trust's Divya Yog Pharmacy. Brinda Karat claimed that some medicines sold by the pharmacy contained animal and human matter. Her allegations were based on tests conducted by a Central government agency on samples of some medicines given to her by the dismissed workers.
This was enough to raise the hackles of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). VHP activists burnt her effigies in Haridwar, Bhopal and New Delhi. She was called a "multinational agent" and accused of being "anti-Yoga", "anti-Ayurveda" and "anti-national". Ramdev's supporters and VHP and RSS activists held a protest outside A.K. Gopalan Bhawan, the CPI(M) headquarters in Delhi. Most secular parties declined to comment on the issue and preferred to issue statements "defending" Ayurveda.
THE 115 workers were dismissed in April 2005. Since March they had been protesting against the management's decision to deny them minimum wages and coverage under the Provident Fund and Employees' State Insurance schemes. Neither were they given proper appointment letters or salary certificates. "It is almost by design that only the very poor were chosen to work at the pharmacy. The management knew fully well that with such economic backgrounds, the workers would put up with every situation," said Mahendra Jhakmola, the district CITU leader who is spearheading the agitation. In May, the workers wrote to the Deputy Labour Commissioner, Haridwar, requesting his intervention.
A tripartite meeting - involving the workers, the trust and the district administration - was convened on May 21 and an agreement was reached. The management agreed to pay the minimum wages as per the government notification and not to initiate any disciplinary action against the workers. The workers gave an undertaking to restore normalcy at the workplace from May 22. But when they went to join work, they were not allowed to enter the pharmacy premises. Instead, the management implicated several of them in police cases, which a senior police officer told Frontline were exaggerated.
Acharya Balkrishna, the second in command at the Divya Yog Mandir Trust after Ramdev, refused to take back the workers despite the agreement which specified that the status quo had to be restored. Balkrishna told Frontline that he was averse to taking back the workers' leaders. "The communists very silently infiltrated our unit. We did not know what was happening. There are three or four people who had instigated the workers and I am not taking them back. Now we would like the matter to be settled by the court. In any case, they were not workers, but swayamsevaks [volunteers]," he said.
Meanwhile, the district administration seems disinclined to implement the agreement. District Magistrate R.K. Sudhanshu, the authority empowered to initiate proceedings in case of the violation of the agreement, is completely unmoved even as outside his residence, the workers have been on a dharna since May 22 (see box). The workers have not been paid their salaries for April 2005 though the agreement had dealt with this aspect too.
Such has been the influence of Ramdev and his Divya Yog Mandir Trust that even the letter that State Labour Minister Hira Singh Bisht wrote to the District Magistrate did not have any effect. Bisht had reminded the District Magistrate of the agreement and expressed concern regarding the management's intransigence (see box). Chittabrata Majumdar, CITU general secretary and Rajya Sabha member, wrote twice to Uttaranchal Chief Minister N.D. Tiwari regarding the non-implementation of the agreement. But nothing happened. He sent a third letter on January 14 reminding Tiwari of the telephonic and written exchange of communication he had with the Chief Minister on the issue. (In the second week of December, Tiwari inaugurated a new building of the pharmacy in Haridwar.) Majumdar wrote in the January 14 letter: "It is surprising that the State administration has not taken any action against such offence done by the Divya Yog management, which is tantamount to indulgence to or complicity with their unlawful act."
S.P. Kuckreti, the Deputy Labour Commissioner who presided over the May 21 meeting, told Frontline that the government could have moved the labour court after the management reneged on its commitment to take back the workers. His office was not empowered to act on the matter, Kuckreti said. "Now a dispute has arisen about who broke the agreement. This should have been referred by the government to the labour court," he said. Dipankar Mukherjee, member of an all-party delegation that met the District Magistrate on September 2, said: "He told me he was awaiting instructions from the Labour Secretary. Those instructions have arrived but he has yet to initiate prosecution proceedings." He said the issue was about violation of labour laws. "If they [workers] were swayamsevaks as asserted by the trust, why did they agree to the tripartite agreement," asked the MP.
AS early as July 2005 the dismissed workers had alleged in their letters to various State agencies and Brinda Karat usage of human and animal matter in certain kinds of medicines produced by the Divya Yog Pharmacy. They said they had prepared powders from crushed human skulls and animal parts, including the testicles of "udbilao" (Indian otter). While the crushed skull powder was used to produce medicines to treat epilepsy, the latter was used to treat sexual weakness. The workers provided samples of two medicines, Kuliya Bhasm and Yauvanamrit Bati, procured from the Brahmakalp Chikitsalay (the trust's hospital in Haridwar), to Brinda Karat. Proper prescriptions and cash receipts were obtained from the medicine counter, copies of which are available with Frontline. The workers obtained the samples on May 5 and 8, 2005 (receipt numbers 371083 and 373870). Significantly, they did not choose other medicines prescribed to treat epilepsy and sexual weakness.
The sealed samples were first handed over to the State Principal Secretary (Health), Sujit Das, who recommended that they be given to Central government agencies for testing as the State government did not have the facilities. While the samples were given to the Union Health Ministry, State Drug Controller Ramakant Sharma inspected the Haridwar establishment and said that no incriminatory evidence had been found. Sharma observed in his report that he visited the pharmacy premises on May 12 and inspected the raw materials used for the medicines. Sharma took 20 samples to test them for purity.
Sharma refused to talk to Frontline about the detailed report of the State government. D.N. Sharma, the principal of the Rishikul Ayruvedic Government College, too refused to comment, stating that the report was "gopaneeya" (confidential). He said that he had only been asked to give an opinion on the usage of such matter in Ayurveda. "Even the shastras do not prohibit the consumption of meat. There are some words in our shastras that do not need to be spelt out on the medicines. It is enough to mention the IP tag which stands for Indian Pharmacopia," he said. It was clear that there was tremendous pressure on the State Drug Controller's office, the Health Department and other agencies concerned following the outbreak of the controversy.
Meanwhile, the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), to which the samples were passed on by the Union Health Ministry, sent the samples to the Director, Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha. After a series of tests conducted at various laboratories, the final report confirmed that the samples contained the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) of human species and dried animal tissue. As Ayurveda texts allow the use of such materials, at issue is the violation of licensing and labelling requirements under the Indian Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. The analysis reports of the samples too mentioned this.
The matter is currently pending before the Principal Secretary (Health) of the Uttranchal government for further investigation and appropriate action under the licensing and labelling provisions of Chapter 4 A of the Act.
Rajkumar Rawat, chairman of the Gurukul Kangri Pharmacy, an almost 100-year-old institution, told Frontline that in approved Ayurveda texts such as Bhaishajyaratnavali old bones of the skull mixed with cow's urine was prescribed as a treatment for ulcers. The prescription is called Kapalsthilaypanam. But he said that as substitutes were available the Kangri Pharmacy had found little need for old skull bones. He added that not all Ayurveda books were approved under the Act and even within a text not all parts were recognised. "If a medicine is prepared using a book for reference, then the book's name should be mentioned. If it is a patented medicine, then the ingredients have to be mentioned. Also, the manufacturer has to have the licence for the particular medicine or component that he plans to use for the medicine. The law is very clear on this," he said.