A Public Interest Litigation has been filed in the Karnataka High Court against Jubilant Generics Limited, on grounds of negligence in protecting its employees from COVID-19. The company, part of the Jubilant Bhartia Group, has a plant in Nanjangud in Karnataka, where 27 positive COVID-19 cases have been reported among the employees and their family members.
This is one of the first cluster outbreaks of the coronavirus pandemic in the state.
"....due to careless/negligent handling of the situation by the owner of said company the COVID-19 had spread to various parts of the Mysuru District as well as other parts of the Karnataka State.." the petition said.
The petitioner has claimed that the company received chemicals at its plant from China in March, which may have been the “root cause” of the outbreak. The PIL has called for an investigation by authorities into the matter and for action to be taken against the company.
“This has been filed as an application to our earlier PIL in the Karnataka High Court on lapses in the state to arrest the spread of COVID-19 cases. This matter is likely to be heard next week,” said lawyer GR Mohan, advocate for the petitioner.
Jubilant Generics Limited said that at its plant located at Nanjangud, Mysore, it manufactures Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs or bulk drugs) like Azithromycin Dihydrate and Azithromycin Monohydrate, which are needed in treatment for patients infected with COVID-19.
“Therefore, it was critical for the company to continue its operations in its efforts to help fight the global epidemic of COVID-19,” the company said.
The company said it had taken necessary preventive measures to safeguard employees.
“With the advent of COVID-19, Jubilant geared up and implemented multiple precautionary measures to safeguard the employees and the community around the plant. Advisories were released to employees on safety measures at all the plants and offices as early as beginning of March,” the company said,
The first positive case of an employee of Jubilant Generics was reported on March 26, and authorities have been investigating how the person contracted the virus since he claimed to not have a travel history, according to the Mysuru district health officer.
Jubilant said the employee had stopped coming to the plant after March 20.
“He did not attend office from March 21-26 till he was detected positive. He was put under medical supervision at a government hospital and the company has been getting information from the government authorities that he is recuperating well,’ the company said.
However, cases soon started rising in the small temple-town of Nanjangud near Mysuru, mainly among the employees and their contacts. This prompted authorities to ask the over 1000-member staff at the pharma company to be strictly home quarantined.
Mysuru District Health Officer Dr R Venkatesh said all possible causes of the outbreak was being investigated, including import of chemicals from China, and visits by foreign delegates to the campus. CCTV footage, company records regarding visitor details, travel history, material movement are being probed.
The company said it is awaiting the results of the samples taken by the government authorities.
“All the raw material sampled under the query has taken more than three weeks to reach the plant by sea route. Further about the query that this raw material has come under cold chain is also not correct. The raw materials have all come under normal containers with no cold chain and thus facing high temperature,” the company said.
“As all public evidence referred above indicate that the virus cannot survive for more than 72hours on any surface. It would be premature for any conclusions to be made on the role of raw material in spread of the virus.” Jubilant added.
Motilal Oswal Institutional Equities, in its April 2 note on the company, had said it had interacted with the management of Jubilant Life Sciences (JLS) to get an update on its business, and said the Nanjangud plant would remain shut till April 10.
"This facility contributes 7-8 percent of total sales for JLS. As inventory is available in the system, impact of the shutdown should be minimal," it said.
Motilal Oswal said it was reducing its EPS estimate by 13 percent for FY21/FY22, lowering EBITDA for pharma to 6x from 8x earlier and reducing EBITDA for the chemical business to 3x from 4x earlier to factor in the subdued outlook in the relatively higher margin radiopharma/allergy/chemical business.
"Radiopharma and allergy therapies (33% of sales) have seen some reduction due to lower visits at hospitals/allergists on account of the lockdown. Also, products used in elective diagnosis and procedures are getting postponed," it said.
"For rest of the business, JLS is currently witnessing steady performance. Most of JLS’ businesses being in the essential services category, production at its plants has continued albeit at lower utilization due to logistics constraints," the note said.
First Published: IST