The Delhi High Court today stayed the proceedings before a trial court against cricketer-turned-politician Gautam Gambhir, his foundation and others in a case related to the alleged illegal stocking and distribution of COVID-19 drugs.
Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar sought response from the Delhi drug control authority on the petition by Gautam Gambhir foundation, Mr Gambhir and his family members who are accused in the case, assailing the criminal complaint and the summoning order passed by the trial court in the case.
Listing the matter for further hearing on December 8, the judge said, "Till then the proceedings are stayed".
Drug Control Department has filed a complaint against the Member of Parliament from East Delhi, his foundation, its CEO Aprajita Singh, his mother and wife, Seema Gambhir and Natasha Gambhir, respectively -- who are both trustees in the foundation -- for offences under section 18(c) read with section 27(b)(ii) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.
Section 18(c) prohibits manufacture, sale and distribution of drugs without a licence and Section 27(b)(ii) makes sale, distribution without valid licence punishable with imprisonment for a term, not less than three years but which may extend to five years and with fine.
Senior advocate ANS Nadkarni, representing the petitioners, submitted that no case was made out against his clients as the foundation was distributing free COVID-19 medicines through a medical camp and that it was an admitted fact that such medicines were not being "sold for a price".
Lawyer Nandita Rao, appearing for the Drug Control Department, stated that a licence to deal in such medicines was necessary and the law did not distinguish between sale and distribution.
In his petition filed through lawyer Jai Anant Dehadrai, the petitioners have said that carrying out a charitable activity during an unprecedented catastrophe did not require any licences and initiating criminal proceedings for such acts would be a gross miscarriage of justice.
"The charitable activities of the petitioners in procuring medicines and oxygen cylinders to be given away under the supervision of doctors for free is not covered as an activity requiring license under Section of 18 (c) of the Act, 1940, and therefore, would be not an offence under Section 27 of the Act of 1940. Thus, at a threshold analysis itself, it is evident that the Impugned Complaint is a gross abuse of process of the Hon'ble Court," the plea said.
The plea further clarified that neither Mr Gambhir nor any of the other trustees had any intention to violate the law and that "it were the compelling circumstances of the deadly pandemic compounded by mass deprivation and inability to afford medicines that compelled the Petitioners to take this humanitarian step of organizing a medical camp, in the face of the pandemic, to help the needy".
It said that the humanitarian activities carried out in the trying times of the deadly pandemic by the petitioners cannot be labelled as an offence or violation under the law.
The plea further claimed that the procurement of medicines made by the foundation, under medical supervision and against documented invoices, did not obstruct the supply chain of the medicine in any manner.
"The fact that almost 2,400 strips of the total approximately 2,600 stripes were provided to the participants of the camp within the span of 16 days, is in no uncertain terms indicative of the fact that the medicines were indeed given almost immediately after procurement," the plea said.
It contended that the cognizance of the drug control authority's complaint by the trial court was without any application of mind.
In July, the trial court had issued summons to all accused in the case saying that the complainant had been able to prima-facie prove the commission of the offence under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.
It had recorded that as per the prosecution, Gautam Gambhir and others from the foundation allegedly stocked and distributed drugs namely Favipiravir tablets and medical oxygen during a medical camp held from April 22, 2021 to May 18, 2021.
Last month, the trial court had listed the case against the foundation for further hearing on February 7, 2022.
On June 3, Delhi's drug controller had told the Delhi High Court that Gambhir Foundation was allegedly found guilty of unauthorised stocking, procuring and distributing fabiflu medicine to COVID-19 patients.
The high court had deprecated the manner in which a huge quantity of the drug was procured and said that the genuine patients who needed the medicine at that particular time could not get it as the bulk stock was taken away by Mr Gambhir.
The drug controller also submitted that action will be taken without delay against the foundation.