The High Court on Wednesday issued a contempt of court ruling against five people, including Health Secretary Lokman Hossain Miah, and Director General (DG) of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), Professor Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam.
The ruling asked them to explain to the court within the next four weeks, why contempt of court charges may not be brought against them for disobeying a verdict delivered on 13 February 2017.
The virtual bench of Justice Mamnoon Rahman and Justice Khandaker Diliruzzaman issued the order after a hearing on a contempt of court case filed on behalf of Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB).
The three others facing contempt of court charges are – Bablu Kumar Shah, DG of the Department of Consumer Protection, Major General Mahbubur Rahman, DG Drug Administration, and Anwarul Haque, managing director of Indo-Bangla Pharmaceuticals (AFM).
Advocate Manzill Murshid, who stood for the petition in court, said antibiotics are life-saving medicines and that is why the court delivered such a verdict.
"Indo Bangla Pharmaceuticals is harming many people by disobeying the court order and selling [antibiotics] in the market. But neither the Drug Administration nor others are taking any action," he said.
Manzill added that evidence from the company's sales documents shows that they have produced antibiotics. "They have shown disrespect to the court and are in contempt of court which is a punishable offense."
After the hearing on a public litigation case filed by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB), the court directed the authorities concerned to stop the production of antibiotics by 20 medicine companies, including Indo-Bangla Pharmaceuticals in Barishal, that were not following good manufacturing practices (GMP).
But the media reported that Indo-Bangla Pharmaceuticals was illegally producing and selling antibiotics in defiance of the court order.
Consequently, a contempt of court case was filed with the High Court by HRPB.
On 13 February 2017, the High Court upheld its previous order directing the government to halt completely, the production operations of 20 pharmaceutical companies and the production of antibiotics by 14 other drugmakers.
The 20 companies are Avert Pharma, Bikalpa Pharmaceutical, Dolphin Pharmaceuticals, Drugland, Exim Pharmaceutical, Globe Laboratories, Jalpa Laboratories and Kafina Pharmaceuticals, Medico Pharmaceutical, National Drug, North Bengal Pharmaceutical, Rimo Chemical, Rid Pharmaceutical, Skylab Pharmaceutical, Spark Pharmaceutical, Star Pharmaceutical, Sunipun Pharmaceutical, Today Pharmaceutical, Tropical Pharmaceutical, and Universal Pharmaceutical.
The 14 companies which were asked to stop antibiotics production are Ad-din Pharmaceuticals, Alkad Pharmaceuticals, Belsen Pharmaceuticals, Bengal Drugs and Chemicals, Bristol Pharma, Crystal Pharmaceuticals, Indo-Bangla Pharmaceuticals, Millat Pharmaceuticals, MST Pharma and Healthcare, Orbit Pharmaceuticals, Pharmic Laboratories, Phoenix Chemical Laboratory, Rasa Pharmaceuticals, and Save Pharmaceuticals.
The High Court on 8 August 2016 ordered the government to stop production at these companies as their products were substandard.
On 5 June 2016, HRPB filed a writ petition stating that a committee of medicine experts had advised a parliamentary watchdog group in January the same year to cancel the licences of 20 companies, and stop production operations of 14 other companies who manufacture antibiotics – penicillin, non-penicillin and cephalosporin groups – and suspend 22 companies who produce penicillin and cephalosporin-based drugs, but no steps were taken.