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Bombay HC orders Maharashtra govt to approve transfer of vaccine plant to Bharat Biotech after forest dept blocked the deal

Biovet had purchased the unit along with the plot of land from Intervet to manufacture vaccines, but the deputy conservator of forests (Pune division) had blocked the transfer

On Tuesday, the Bombay High Court permitted Biovet Private Limited, an associate company of Bharat Biotech, to take possession of a fully operational and ready-to-use vaccine manufacturing plant in Pune to produce Covaxin, the indigenous vaccine against Covid-19. Biovet has purchased the plant from its previous owner, but the forest department was not allowing the transfer citing irregularities.

The unit on the 12-hectare plot was being used by Intervet India Pvt Ltd (a subsidiary of Merck & Co.) to manufacture vaccines for Foot and Mouth Disease. The land was granted for the manufacturing unit in 1973.

Subsequently, Biovet had purchased the unit along with the plot of land from Intervet to manufacture vaccines, however, when Biovet approached the government for approval of the transfer of the plant, the deputy conservator of forests (Pune division) intervened saying it was a reserved forest and the initial 1973 grant itself was problematic. 

Biovet then had to approach the High Court to challenge the refusal of the govt to approve the transfer of the plant, and in an interim application, sought direction to the government to grant it licences and permissions to initiate manufacturing of Covaxin and vaccine for Foot and Mouth Disease.

A division bench comprising Justices KK Tated and N R Borkar on May 6 heard the application filed by Karnataka’s Biovet Private Limited seeking direction to the Maharashtra government to hand over possession of the manufacturing unit. 

Considering the COVID-19 situation, the HC declared, “The respondent (state government) is directed to grant appropriate licences/permissions/NOCs to the applicant (Biovet) in a time-bound manner to enable manufacture of the Food and Mouth Disease vaccine, Covaxin and other life-saving vaccines.”

“Considering the present position of Covid-19 and as the Applicants are ready and willing to start manufacturing activities without prejudice to the rights and contentions of both the parties in writ petition proceeding and considering the undertaking given by the Applicants by their affidavit-cum-undertaking dated April 30, 2021, and as the Learned Advocate General has no objection to allow the present interim application, we are satisfied that the Applicants have made out a case for allowing this Interim Application,” the court added.

RD Soni, who appeared for Biovet, had argued that the unit and machinery was lying idle due to a delay in handing over possession of the land.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the court that the Maharashtra government had no objection if the company used the unit for manufacturing life-saving vaccines, including Covaxin. However, he warned that the company should not claim any right, title and interest in future.

Soni assured the court that the company would not claim any equity in respect to the land in question, in case that was the cause of hesitancy in approving the transfer. 

“The concerned authorities are directed to hand over peaceful possession of the ready-to-use BSL-3 vaccine manufacturing facility,” added HC.

Bharat Biotech ramps up production

To support the largest vaccination drive being carried out by India, Bharat Biotech has ramped up the manufacturing capacity of Covaxin to 700 million doses per annum.

The manufacturing scale-up is happening in a step-wise manner across multiple facilities with newer ones being added to the list.

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