From 80 stores in 2015 to over 8,000 by November 2021, according to the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP)—that’s a 100X growth in six years for these government-run pharmacies, called Jan Aushadhi Kendra. Set up under the government’s Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PMBJP) scheme, Jan Aushadhi pharmacies stock only generics generics Generic Drug Generic drugs have active ingredients that are identical to the patented/originator drug and are low cost , sold 50% cheaper than their branded counterparts. Customers are drawn in after seeing a smiling poster of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi prominently displayed, pharmacists The Ken spoke to said. Loyalists even have a nickname for it—“Modi ki dukaan” (Modi’s shop). 

The only prerequisite to set up these stores is that the applicant has a diploma or a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy, or intends to employ someone who has these degrees. Once set up, the government would handle the rest of it, from sourcing the drugs to the software for billing. While on paper, this seems like a solid attempt at making medicines accessible to the poor, the implementation on the ground has left pharmacists with more headaches than a generic can fix. 

For starters, a pharmacist running a Jan Aushadhi makes just one-fourth of the profits counterpart selling branded drugs would make. “One cannot make money by just running one Jan Aushadhi store. The margins are too low. Running these stores could be best compared to operating a philanthropic store,” a Mumbai-based pharmacist who runs a store told The Ken

Unviable Biz

In a 2018 survey of 169 Jan Aushadhi store owners conducted by Poona College of Pharmacy, 84.62% reported a net monthly profit of less than Rs 5,000 ($67). Nearly 90 stores were owned by entrepreneurs while only 34 were opened by unemployed pharmacists

In addition, there has been a mad race to open stores, thanks to “instructions from the top”, according to a senior official from the Ministry of Health, who was directly involved in the discussion. “We had instructions from the top (read Prime Minister’s Office—the PMO) that there needs to be an increase in the number of stores at any cost.” This official, pharmacists under the scheme, and other ministry officials requested anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media. 

That cost has been two-fold—a mismanaged supply chain and inadequate quality control. Currently, one in two to three drugs required by patients are unavailable at Jan Aushadhi stores, DoP officials told The Ken. PMBI, the society that implements the scheme is forever trying to play catch up with the demand. 

AUTHOR

Maitri Porecha

Maitri writes about everything health for The Ken. For close to 10 years now, she has navigated hospital corridors in her search for a good story. In a past life, when she was not a journalist, she used to teach French at her neighbourhood school. Also an avid fan of forensics, she is always up for decoding mysteries in her free time.

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