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Johnson & Johnson compensation just an eyewash?

Thursday - October 18, 2018 9:44 am , Category : OPINION & INTERVIEW

WTN- Nearly a decade after the hip implant row in India that affected close to 4,700 patients, most are not participating in the compensation process of the culprit company US’ Johnson and Jhonson. 
 
As many as 35 families have written to Union health minister JP Nadda questioning the validity of the enquiry process and the basis of the compensation, opposing the initiative to compensate the victims of the faulty hip-replacement, which they want to be realigned and restudied for more transparency and probity. These families claim that the enquiry set up by the government under the Agarwal Committee was one-sided and favourably tilted towards the errant company while the victims were shortchanged. The committee of experts submitted its report six months back but it was never made public by the government showing unavoidable reasons, which the victims and their kin say is due to pressure from J&J with which the government is working closely.
 
The government has set up another fresh panel after the row to study case by case the amount of exact compensation to be decided per patient with coordination of state panels. However, the aggrieved patients claim the state expert panels have still not even been constituted. No one knows when they would come out with the final decision of compensation.
 
Following the implants in 2009-10, the company globally recalled the patients because of pain and other related symptoms due to faulty equipment that raised the need for another corrective surgery. In the US billions of dollars were paid in compensation for the losses. In India the base amount has been fixed at Rs 20 lakh which the patients are reluctant to accept because they feel it is paltry and unjustified when compared to the physical and mental damage they had faced all these years.
 
The families claim that the government is more heedful of the interests and concerns of the company while the patients or their kin have not even been consulted once for their side of the story, which they believe would certainly affect the compensation amount. These families say vested interest groups are pressuring the government to ensure minimum loss to the company by reducing the compensation amount. If we believe the allegations to be somewhat true it is indeed a sad case of injustice to the poor victims who have lost years in pain and uncertainty. It often happens that third world countries are taken for a ride and big multinationals operating out of these countries are often easily let off despite their wrongs.
 
We have suffered such lop-sided treatment in the past too, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and the subsequent easy escape of Union Carbide Company CEO Warren Anderson from India under tacit government support that facilitated his flight out of India being the most glaring of them. People are still fighting for justice even as compensations in various small doles and truncated tranches have reached them over the three decades. The company and its management responsible for the fatal lapse never suffered any action from India. When we woke up, it was already too late and India had lost the plot. This should not happen again in this Johnson and Johnson case. The brand is an old and trusted name in medicines, equipment and baby care products globally and any lapse by it comes as a shocker and breach of faith and thus deserves adequate compensation commensurate with its name. With bigger name come greater challenges and responsibilities which the company cannot shirk, at least for the sake of its reputation and the big stake it has in the Indian market.
 
Misdemeanor from its side will generate negative sentiments across buyer bases and dent the company’s prospects here, a mistake J&J must not commit. It is a multi-billion dollar company and should be generous in compensating the 4,700 odd patients who have suffered for its negligence, even if it is getting tough to locate and identify all those sufferers or their links so many years down the line. The government should also expedite the process of inquiry and compensation and take the stakeholders into confidence without trying to hide or manipulate facts.
 
If fellow Indian citizens have a valid concern, it must be addressed by the government because it is the government on which people depend. Big companies as a thumb rule try to influence the government and sway verdicts in their favour by taking advantage of government’s economic and legal compulsions, which the victims rightfully fear.

But the government also knows these possibilities and thus be strong and neutral in awarding justice to the party that deserves it. If J&J has merit in its argument, it too must be heard but any chances of partiality in judgment must be curtailed at the very start. It is time a proper direction and guideline to the victim parties be issued so that they are privy to the process and can have their say in the decision making even as that will also equip the committee members with greater clarity and material to base their judgment on.

 
-Window To News
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