Telangana: A shot in the arm for indigenous vaccines

Of Genome Valley, ‘prudent’ political donations and censor boards

Genome Valley in Hyderabad, Telangana, is touted as India's "first and largest life sciences manufacturing cluster", accounting for 35-40% of world vaccine production (photo courtesy @investindia/X)
Genome Valley in Hyderabad, Telangana, is touted as India's "first and largest life sciences manufacturing cluster", accounting for 35-40% of world vaccine production (photo courtesy @investindia/X)
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Suresh Dharur

Hyderabad seems to have emerged as the vaccine capital of the world.

Genome Valley, the city’s life sciences hub spread over 2,000 acres, houses over 200 pharma and biotech companies, which account for 35 to 40 per cent of global vaccine production.

Presently pegged at 9 billion doses, Hyderabad’s global vaccine supply is expected to touch 14 billion doses by 2025. This is largely due to the expansion plans of four leading biotech companies located in Genome Valley—Bharat Biotech, Biological E. Limited, Sanofi and Indian Immunologicals Limited (IIL), a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB).

IIL recently launched Havisure, India’s first indigenously developed hepatitis A vaccine, which has been eight years in the making.

Though less dreaded than chronic liver diseases like hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A poses significant public health challenges as it is transmittable through close contact with the infected. Hepatitis A vaccines are currently imported.

Initially, IIL will produce 1 million doses per year. Also recommended for those suffering from chronic liver diseases, Havisure is a two-dose vaccine, to be administered six months apart.

It is worth noting that Genome Valley also gave India its first indigenous Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech in 2021. While the company was suspected of receiving undue favour in the name of Atmanirbhar Bharat, what drew flak from experts was the hurried approach where nationalist triumphalism trumped rigorous scientific protocol.

Despite the absence of Phase-III data (based on human trials), the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) gave Covaxin an accelerated approval on 3 January 2021, a move dubbed by some scientists as “unconscionable”. The DCGI had approved the vaccine under the Clinical Trial Mode, a special provision that also calls for the safety and efficacy of the vaccine to be closely tracked even after rollout.

The story of Covaxin holds many sobering lessons for future vaccine developments and public–private partnerships. However, that does not seem to have dimmed Genome Valley's prospects on the global stage, for now.

Telangana tops political donations
 
Four of the top 10 donors to India’s political parties through electoral trusts (ETs) are Hyderabad-based companies. The infrastructure firm Megha Engineering & Infrastructures Limited (MEIL) contributed the highest amount, Rs 87 crore, among all donors to electoral trusts in the financial year 2022–23.

Notably, MEIL executed the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project (KLIP), the flagship programme of the previous BRS regime that was mired in allegations of large-scale corruption.


MEIL was followed by Serum Institute of India Pvt Ltd, with a contribution of Rs 50.25 crore, and ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India, which donated Rs 50 crore to various trusts.

Under the Electoral Trusts Scheme, any company registered under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956, can form an electoral trust. These trusts receive contributions from other companies and individuals and disburse them to political parties. ETs are required to disclose their sources of funding and which political parties the funds are distributed to. However, it is difficult to directly link which donor is funding which party.

Interestingly, the highest donations to these trusts came from Telangana this year: 13 donations worth Rs 145.51 crore.

According to data published by the Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), the BJP secured the lion’s share with Rs 259 crore, accounting for 70 per cent of the total nationwide contribution of Rs 366.495 crore.

Prudent Electoral Trust, formerly known as Satya, is the richest of the ETs, and has been one of the BJP’s biggest funders since it was incorporated in 2013, ahead of the 2014 general elections. Having received the biggest donations from corporates, Prudent’s donations went mainly to the BJP, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) and the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP).

The top 10 corporate donors have contributed Rs 332.26 crore altogether to ETs, accounting for 90.66 per cent of the total donations received by the trusts during 2022–23. All 10 contributed to Prudent.

RGV lands in fresh trouble 

Maverick filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma—RGV, as he is popularly known—is Controversy’s darling. Be it the content of his movies or his social media posts, the producer-director never fails to cause ripples.

His latest political thriller Vyuham (Strategy) has sparked outrage in the opposition camp in Andhra Pradesh. Following a petition filed by the Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Telangana high court set aside the censor certificate issued to the movie last month and directed the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to reconsider its decision.

In his petition, the TDP general secretary Nara Lokesh, who is Chandrababu Naidu’s son, alleged that the film was unvarnished propaganda by the ruling YSRCP, portraying the chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy as a righteous hero and opposition Congress leaders and Naidu as villains.

Vyuham focuses on the political situation in the combined state of Andhra Pradesh in the aftermath of chief minister Y.S. Rajashekar Reddy’s sudden death in a copter crash in September 2009. Projecting YSR’s son Jagan as an innocent victim of devious political ploys, the film portrays how the young MP from Kadapa overcomes obstacles created by his rivals and emerges unscathed as a popular leader winning the hearts of the masses.


The TDP alleged that the movie was defamatory to the party and its leaders. The Court agreed with the petitioner’s argument and ruled that the filmmakers have no unbridled right to tarnish the image and reputation of any individual or political party. Justice Surepalli Nanda observed that reputation, an inherent component of the right to life, cannot be allowed to be crucified at the altar of others’ right to free speech.

The court found that the Examining Committee of the CBFC had clearly indicated that the movie defamed living characters and was aimed at creating political unrest. Despite which the Revising Committee had gone ahead and cleared the movie.

The judge said that the expert body had thus “failed in its duty” of reviewing the film in its entirety.

Joining the caste census race 

After Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, it is now Telangana’s turn.
During a review meeting at the Secretariat, chief minister A. Revanth Reddy directed officials to carry out a caste census which, he said, would help to ensure accurate allocation of welfare benefits, and further finetune welfare initiatives, especially for those belonging to the Backward Classes.

The Minority Declaration, passed by the Congress in November last year before the Telangana Assembly elections, promised to conduct a caste census within six months of the party coming to power.

At the national level, the party put forth a resolution pledging to conduct a caste census across the country and also promised to eliminate the 50 per cent reservation cap for Other Backward Castes (OBCs) through legislation.

There is a strong case for conducting a national caste census to identify socially, economically and educationally backward communities and increase reservations proportionate to their population.

“Without reliable data, no welfare programme can be effective. It is surprising that a nation which runs such a large affirmative action programme based on caste has not been collecting data on educational and economic profile of castes. It is ironic that while caste plays a dominant role in India’s social, economic and political life, there is still no credible and comprehensive caste data,” said political analyst and author S. Ramakrishna.

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