Bottle of Lies: A Short Book Review

Having finally finished Bottle of Lies, an investigative narration of the rot that runs within the Indian pharmaceutical industry by Katherine Eban, I am appalled. The extent of the subterfuge detailed in this book – one that paints India in a poor light and repeatedly references ‘jugaad’ and ‘chalta hai’ as reasons for poor drug manufacturing practices – is mind-boggling. Selling substandard drugs in markets with least regulation, falsifying and lying to regulators including the US FDA, criminal intimidation of plant inspectors… The list goes on… While the book focuses heavily on Ranbaxy and the whistleblower Dinesh Thakur, some of India’s biggest companies in this industry have been named and shamed. These are listed companies, where one would assume there would be enough scrutiny built in at multiple levels – exchanges, institutional investors, analysts, credit rating agencies, auditors, etc. forcing them to conduct themselves ethically.

While her criticism of the industry’s practices is appreciated, her general commentary on India’s lackadaisical attitude towards things such as manufacturing quality is painful to read, especially after it’s peppered with a healthy dose of pseudo racists rants about India’s brown-nosed corporate culture. Prone to prose, exaggeration and hyperbole, Katherine Eban nonetheless manages to deliver an important book. Keeping aside questions around efficacy and quality, when shards of glass and cancer-causing impurities can contaminate the pills you’ve been taking, this becomes an important conversation to have…

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