When Indian police came knocking at Sumit and Rajesh Mahawar’s pharmaceutical plant two days ago, they say the father and son locked the doors from the inside. A few hours later, after the police left, witnesses reported smoke started rising from medicines burning behind the building.
Mahawar Pharmaceuticals, run from an upscale residential street in the eastern city of Raipur, is now at the center of a probe into more than a dozen deaths in eastern India after 83 women were sterilized at a government-run family planning camp.
More victims arrived at hospitals from villages in Bilaspur district, about 100 km (60 miles) from Raipur, on Thursday and Friday, some clutching medicine strips from Mahawar and complaining of vomiting, dizziness and swelling, a doctor at the district’s main public hospital said.
At least one of the strips of antibiotics, seen by Reuters, was from the same batch as those handed out at the mass sterilization held on Saturday in the same district in Chhattisgarh state, one of India’s poorest.
The factory owners deny there was anything wrong with their medicines.
Police say they entered the Mahawar factory on Wednesday with the help of a security guard, but at first found nothing wrong. Drug inspectors returned the next day and shut it down, but not before two men were seen lighting a pre-dawn fire out back.
A construction worker across the street said the 4 a.m. fire struck her as unusual. In the past garbage fires had been lit in the evening, she said.
A Reuters reporter found a pile of ash surrounded by spilt white powder behind a wall at the single story blue and white building. In the cinders were medicine packets, including for Mahawar Pharma’s Ciprocin 500 mg pills.
A batch of this product has been banned by Chhattisgarh’s state government following the deaths but appears to still be available in rural areas.