China to Chennai is the new route for spurious medicines Close on the heels of Nigerian authorities unearthing Chinese-made drugs with fake ‘Made in India’ labels, the Central Drugs Standard.

Control Organisation (CDSCO) here has stumbled upon a racket at Chennai port involving the use of fake labels and invoices to ship spurious Chinese drugs into Indian cities.

The central drug authority has so far traced three consignments of an antibiotic named roxithromycin, a female hormone called progesterone, and anti-ulcer drug cimetidine, which arrived from China in separate batches in the second, third and last week of May.

The tip-off for the interception came from licensed Chinese drug manufacturers, who informed CDSCO that spurious drugs bearing their labels were being smuggled into India. The assistant drug controller (ADC) at Chennai port, Shanthy Gunasekaran, then seized three consignments worth Rs 76 lakh.

The drugs, imported in bulk for use as raw material for formulations, weighed nearly three tonnes. They were intended for two traders in Mumbai and one drug manufacturer in Gujarat. It is not yet known whether the importers were involved in the fraud or whether they were duped by their Chinese suppliers. When TOI spoke to them, one of them admitted having received a notice from the authorities. Another denied knowledge of the incident, but blamed suppliers and middlemen for such incidents.

The first consignment was intercepted at Chennai port in the second week of May 2009. It had 500kg of roxithromycin, valued at Rs 21 lakh. It was sent by Sinobright Development Ltd, a major drug trader in China, to Envee Drugs Pvt Ltd in Kheda district in Gujarat. The consignment carried labels of Zhejiang Zheyuan Pharmaceutical Company Ltd, a licensed Chinese pharma company.

The manufacturer, however, while replying to a communication from the ADC, said the drug seized at Chennai was not produced at its facility. Also, it had not sold roxithromycin in bulk form to Sinobright, the manufacturer clarified. Inquiries revealed that Sinobright was a regular supplier of bulk drugs to Indian firms and had not come under adverse notice earlier.

The second contraband, 400kg of progesterone valued at Rs 40 lakh, reached Chennai port in the third week of May. It was sent by the Hong Kong-based Tiangao International Economic Development Corporation to J B Khokhani and Company, a Mumbai-based trader. A licensed Chinese manufacturer, Zhejiang Shenzhou Pharmaceutical Company Ltd, whose labels were used for it, disowned the drug and clarified that it had no links with the Hong Kong firm.

The third case — 2,000kg of cimetidine worth Rs 15 lakh — was reported in the last week of May. It was a batch imported by Sheetal Pharma of Mumbai from Zhejiang Chemicals Import and Export Corporation in China. Jiangxi Juermei Pharmaceuticals Company Ltd in China, which was supposed to have manufactured it, said that it was not their product.

Apparently, in all three cases, traders in China had sourced spurious drugs and sent them to India, said a senior official in CDSCO.

Drugs can be imported only through the Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, Nhava Sheva, Kochi and Kandla ports and six airports — Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad.