NEW DELHI: N95 masks, bought by government agencies at Rs 12.25 including taxes in September 2019, cost them Rs 17.33 in January 2020, Rs 42 by March-end and up to Rs 63 by the middle of May, an increase of over 250% since the beginning of the year. Yet, the price regulator NPPA has decided not to cap the price of N95 masks as it “may disincentivise domestic manufacturing”.
Instead, on June 3, it put out alist of maximum retail prices (MRP) of N95 masks manufactured by domestic companies ranging from Rs 95 to Rs 165 as reduced prices. The ‘reduced’ MRPs are 450%-850% higher than the January price paid by agovernment institution.
The list of MRPs was for N95 masks of four manufacturers including Venus Safety and Magnum, the two largest Indian ones. NPPA claimed prices had been brought down after its May 21 memo “advising” manufacturers/ importers/suppliers “to maintain parity in price for nongovernment procurements and to make available the same at reasonable prices”.
The NPPA claimed a “significant” reduction of 47% in prices, though the price of just one N95 mask had been reduced by 47%. Most came down by 23%-41%. Even these reductions were from prices over ten times the January price. So far during the pandemic, the Centre has bought 1.15 crore masks, mostly from Venus Safety, via its procurement agency HLL Lifecare.
Almost a crore more are to be delivered. HLL Lifecare bought 40 lakh N95s for Rs 40 plus taxes till the last week of March. By May 15, HLL Lifecare was buying these masks for Rs 60 plus taxes, an increase of Rs 20, which would have cost the government crores of rupees extra.
“How does NPPA justify this as a price reduction when something sold for Rs 17.33 in January is now being sold for as much as Rs 165? It is plain loot or profiteering. If it can cap charges of hospitals and even airlines, why can’t they intervene to cap price of N95 masks,” asked Anjali Damania of Voice of Taxpayers, one of the petitioners in the Bombay HC over mask pricing.