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Need border passes, worker passes: Ashesh Ghosh, Rolls Pack

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Frontline suppliers and vendors to pharma companies struggled with the COVID-19 lockdown. While the situation has now improved, Ashesh Ghosh, CEO, Rolls Pack says that more planning and border passes for vehicles and personnel will be required to ensure the supply chain is not disrupted

Far from the limelight, packaging manufacturers are partnering with pharma companies to get vital medicines from factory to patient, in a safe and timely manner. One such manufacturer is Mumbai-based Rolls Pack, which makes triple/quadruple laminated US FDA DMF aluminium foil bags and pouches for active pharma ingredients (APIs), bulk drugs and intermediates producers.

Incorporated in 1988, their customers from the pharma sector include Cipla, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL), Torrent and Cadila. Rolls Pack also supplies packaging for hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) API to Zydus, Lupin, and Emcure.

Demand for HCQ escalated once ICMR approved it as a prophylactic for health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Manufacturers in India started receiving orders from various countries. Ashesh Ghosh, CEO, Rolls Pack found himself in a dilemma.

His pharma clients needed packaging material to export HCQ across the world as well as within India. But he could not open his Mulund-based premises due to the lockdown.

Ghose related how he found himself making an e-waybill for the very first time in his 62 years, filling in for staff who could not come to the premises as they reside in ‘RED’ zones with a high number of COVID-19 positive cases and were under strict quarantine.

In between writing GST invoices challans, making labels, etc Ghose related how they had despatched nearly 2000 bags to Zydus Ankleshwar before the lockdown by March 2O.

Once the lockdown was declared on March 24, Zydus gave them a certificate as a frontline supplier of HCQ packaging within days. Zydus also sent five Purchase Orders (POs) after the declaration of lockdown as they ramped up production of HCQ. DRL too sent them a certificate as a supply chain vendor for essential life-saving drug manufacturers within 24 hours of the lockdown.

But as COVID-19 deaths started mounting in Mumbai, Ghose decided to honour the strict lockdown guidelines and kept the factory locked until April 14 midnight to ‘break the chain’. He reasoned that if the factory was open, all sorts of visitors, contractors, couriers etc. enter the premises and they had no way of knowing who was COVID-19 positive.

Cadila had sent Rolls Pack the letter from Dr P D Vaghela, Secretary, Department of Pharmaceuticals asking state secretaries to facilitate pharma companies and their supply chain vendors to remain open and help workmen reach factories.

Attaching this letter to the windscreens of their vehicles, they were able to navigate multiple police checkpoints between their employees’ residences in Mulund and Kalyan/Ulhasnagar.

Five key personnel were “extracted Mossad-style” from their residences so that production could restart. Ghose narrated how the letter from the Secretary Pharmaceuticals with the Ashok Chakra/Lion capital symbol “worked like magic” at multiple police checkpoints between Mulund and Kalyan/Ulhasnagar.

Ghose found his workmen bored to tears by weeks of enforced idleness. “On return, their morale, as well as enthusiasm, could rival the commandos of URI the movie!!!”

Need border passes, worker passes

But letters from the ministry as well as from clients were not accepted at certain checkpoints, especially at state borders. When Ghose’s vehicle went to Daman during the initial lockdown armed with the Secretary of Department of Pharmaceuticals, PD Vaghela’s letter to collect adhesive from a distributor, the vehicle was let into Gujarat without any problems.

But after loading adhesive plus hardener the vehicle was stopped at the Gujarat-Maharashtra state border, with guards demanding a collector’s letter to cross into a sealed-border. Ghose speculates that these constables could probably not read English and had no idea who the letter was from.

Thus Ghose emphasises that besides letters from the Ministry and certificates from clients, frontline vendors for essential pharma commodities, like Rolls Pack need border passes and worker passes.

He allows that the government obviously did not give time to plan for such circumstances this time. If there was time to plan, perhaps vendors would have been able to crash production cycles to give fast deliveries by maintaining adequate safety/quality standards.

Beyond May 3

He expects that the extension of the lockdown to May 3 will again impact production. For example; Orex Pharma has sent Ghose a PO for 2000 triple laminated medium barrier (TLMB) bags but because his lamination machine was been idle for 24 days, they would be able to supply only 1000 TLMB bags.

After the extension of the lockdown, he foresees short-term shortages in alufoil, PET as well as food-grade poly which are essential substrates in Rolls Pack’s USFDA DMF triple-laminated bags. Signing off, he hopes that with further easing of lockdown norms, things will not be as pessimistic as his forecast.

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