The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed an appeal filed by the Jammu and Kashmir administration against an order of the National Human Rights Commission to pay compensation of Rs 3 lakh each to the kin of 12 children who died in the Ramnagar area of Udhampur district due to consumption of spurious cough syrup.

According to a news agency, a bench of Justices M R Shah and M M Sundresh said officers were found to be negligent and it does not find any reason to interfere in the matter.

"Your officers are found to be negligent. They ought to have been vigilant. Don't compel us to say things about the food and industry department. The health of citizens is in their hands. They don't perform duties at all. They can't play with the lives of citizens. It is their duty to check and verify things", the news agency reported while quoting the observations of the bench.

Supreme Court of India

The Apex court was hearing a plea filed by the Jammu and Kashmir administration challenging the order of the High Court which had dismissed its plea against the NHRC order.

Earlier NHRC ordered compensation for infant deaths

In January 2021, the NHRC recommended a compensation of Rs 3 lakh each to the families of 12 children who died due to the consumption of spurious medicines in the Udhampur district between December 2019 and January 2020.

The NHRC ordered the compensation in favor of the victims' families, observing that there was no denial of lapse in the case though the drugs department of Jammu and Kashmir does not want to own the responsibility for it.

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The complaint regarding the deaths of the infants, aged between one and four years, due to consumption of spurious drugs was lodged before the commission by prominent Jammu-based social activist Sukesh C Khajuria, following which the NHRC issued a show-cause notice to the J&K government in September 2020.

Notable on November 16, 2021, the Health and Medical Education Department of J&K said in compliance with the order passed by NHRC, a sanction was being accorded to the release of Rs 36 lakh for 12 infant victims of spurious drugs in Ramnagar following approval by the Administrative Council but later the government decided to challenge the order of the NHRC.

Key highlights of the case

  1. At least 12 children, aged between one and four years, died in different areas of the Ramnagar block of J&K's Udhampur district between December 2019 and January 2020. These infants had reportedly consumed spurious syrup called "Coldbest-PC" supplied in the area by a Himachal Pradesh-based company. 
  2. A team of experts, deployed by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, had visited the area in January to investigate the pediatric deaths.
  3. The team confirmed the presence of a deadly compound that the parents had bought from a local chemist to treat their children suffering from cough and cold. 
  4. Most of the children who died belonged to poor, scheduled caste families and their parents have little comprehension of what has happened.
  5. Sukesh C Khajuria had taken up the matter with the NHRC, following which the Himachal Pradesh government had suspended the license of manufacturing firm–Digital Vision Pharmaceuticals, and also booked the company under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act that carry a minimum punishment of 10 years. 
  6. In July 2020, the NHRC had directed the Jammu and Kashmir government to submit proof of payment of compensation to families of children who had died in Jammu's Ramnagar area after consuming spurious cough.
  7. After pressure mounted on it from NHRC, the Jammu and Kashmir government had last year agreed to release Rs 36 Lakh as compensation but the release was subject to the outcome of the Special Leave Petition (SLP) pending before the Supreme Court, which was decided on November 11, 2022.