Thiruvananthapuram: Dr. J Hareendran Nair, Founder and Managing Director, Pankajakasthuri Herbals, believes that it is only in a fantasy world that an entrepreneur would prosper unhindered by roadblocks and setbacks. On the contrary, he believes that setbacks in business actually embolden one in his or her journey to success. “Entrepreneurs should not be overly affected by small problems in their businesses,” he says drawing from his own experience.
Pankajakasthuri has emerged over the years as a popular Ayurveda brand in Kerala providing much needed relief to a large number of people, if one goes by the testimonials and the expanding market for its medicines. In this issue, we introduce the man behind Pankajakasthuri products, Dr. J Hareendran Nair, for our readers
Rumours about the presence of heavy metals and toxic chemicals in Ayurvedic medicines sold over the counter had affected Pankajakasthuri Herbals, too. Pankajakasthuri Herbals and Dr. Nair hit a bad patch following such allegations, which according to him, were mischievously directed at him. On the other hand, he admits that hundred per cent pure raw materials are difficult to source. “Manufacturing of medicines adhering to GMP standards can effectively weed out malignant chemical molecules from raw materials,” he says. But the company did not take long to tide over the crisis.
Unlike many other brands in the industry, Pankajakasthuri, named after Dr. Nair’s mother Pankajam and daughter Kasthuri, has never had an Ayurveda legacy to boast about. But this Ayurveda doctor says that it was the authenticity of products, his commitment and honesty which helped him come out of the predicament and bounce back. He realised that the public would not take him at face value unless he proved the company’s worth. “It is your inherent goodness that will help you wade through difficult times. Hard work and honesty will pay off and I have proved it by reviving Pankajakasthuri Herbals,” Dr. Nair says.
Dr. Nair’s survival has set an example for entrepreneurs. Sitting at the helm of Pankajakasthuri Herbals, he no longer wants to recall the names and instances which caused his temporary downfall. However, he still takes strong exception to bad-mouthing and gossiping in the healthcare field. “It is not at all correct to say effective Ayurvedic medicines are being made using some of the ingredients of English medicines. As a result of such rumours, some people try to taint the industry by alleging that there are chemicals and heavy metals present in Ayurvedic preparations. And it is not uncommon to find some lobby of modern doctors backing such false propaganda,” Dr. Nair says based on his experience and adds: “In the initial years, it was quite disheartening to be at the receiving end of such allegations. But now, I realise that even the general public is aware. They know such discrepancies in medicinal ingredients could be brought to light by testing samples at a nearby lab.”
According to Dr. Nair, rumours about the presence of toxic materials in his medicines had created problems for the company. But the purity of the preparations was brought to the public domain through repeated and advanced lab testing procedures.
From an ethical businessman’s point of view, Dr. Nair is still continuing his fight against the discriminatory regulations being imposed on Ayurvedic medicines. In December 2018, the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) published a notification in the Gazette of India prohibiting advertisement of Ayurveda, Siddha or Unani drugs.
In order to check the publication of misleading advertisements of medicines, Rule 170 of Drugs and Cosmetics (Eleventh Amendment) Rules, 2018, states that manufacturers or agents of Ayurvedic, Siddha or Unani (ASU) drugs should not participate in the publication of any advertisement relating to any drug for the use of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of any disease, disorder, syndrome or condition without obtaining prior permission from a State Licensing Authority or Drug Controller. Besides, the rules also prohibit the promoters or manufacturers from using brand ambassadors to promote such products. The regulation of advertisement of ASU drugs is governed by the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 (DMROA Act).
“We submitted an application seeking permission to publish advertisements before a committee. But I was given to understand that the procedures to obtain the license should have been completed within a brief window of time immediately following the publication of the Gazette notification. So when we realised that we could no longer obtain the approval, we approached the court and obtained a three months’ stay on the order. We are currently advertising our products based on that stay,” he says.
Dr. Nair points out that while the amendment in the rule completely prohibits advertisements of ASU drugs, there are no such restrictions on advertisements of allopathic drugs (English medicines). “It is an unacceptable decision since it violates right to equality,” he argues. “Originally DMROA Act was intended to curb advertisement of malevolent and hollow promises of treatment, healing and magical remedies. It is a crime no matter who does it. I fully agree with it. But it should not result in curbing advertisement of genuine Ayurvedic products manufactured by strictly following all stipulations,” he adds. Pankajakasthuri has also made a representation to the AYUSH Ministry in this regard.
NO HOLLOW PROMISES
The man behind Pankajakasthuri reiterates that it is necessary to publish advertisements to market products. However, he categorically says that the brand does not make fraudulent claims for making profit. “If I promise my customers through an advertisement that I will completely cure someone of a certain medical condition, that is indeed a crime,” Dr. Nair says. The drug manufacturer has put out an advertisement of its medicine for diabetes in the past with a statutory caution that diabetes is not fully curable. “We also publish an advertisement promoting our medicine Orthoherb for joint pains. But in that also we do not make any extraordinary claims. Instead, we share testimonies of our users to reach out to the market,” he says.
According to DMROA Act, incurable Rheumatoid Arthritis, which manifests itself as knee and joint pain, is a medical condition for which drugs should not be advertised and the same rule applies to asthma and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). So an obvious suspicion may arise in the minds of the readers whether Pankajakasthuri is cheating gullible customers suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis into buying its product by generalising the symptoms of the illnesses, which is knee and joint pain.
When asked about it, Dr. Nair says: “No. That is not our intention. Moreover, in our advertisements we also say that it is the user’s personal opinion and urge viewers to consult a doctor before taking any decision based on such opinion. We are just introducing a medicine before the public through the advertisement and not cheating the public.”
SUCCESS RATES OF PANKAJAKASTHURI MEDICINES
Being a physician himself, he assures that the company’s medicine for knee and joint pain has a success rate of 85 per cent. “The medicine has been registered with Clinical Trial Registry of India (CTRI) after furnishing substantial proof,” he says. Meanwhile, Dr. Nair also cautions that the medicine may not be effective in all cases. For example, Rheumatoid Arthritis is systemic degenerative auto-immune disease medicine, in which case the medicine may not be that effective, he says.
PANKAJAKASTHURI HARMONY HEALTHCARE
The rejuvenative therapy division of Pankajakasthuri, Harmony Healthcare, is another segment which Dr. Nair is focusing on to develop in the future. Harmony Healthcare has had over 40 centres across India in the past. However, following difficulties in managing logistics and manpower he had to cut down the number of centres. At present, work of a new Harmony resort for rejuvenation therapy is underway at Kandala near Kattakada, says the doctor. “We are hoping to fully operationalise the resort in two to three months.” The 25,000-sq. ft. facility with 16 treatment rooms is mainly aimed at providing rejuvenation therapies to foreign nationals and people who require them. “It will offer a serene ambience to the guests who undergo various therapies in a village setting.” The resort which will focus on medical tourism will employ close to 25 people.
FOCUS ON PURE RAW MATERIALS
The company is planning to improve the quality of export products as it is very much concerned about the presence of contaminants. Explaining how contaminants creep into raw herbs, Dr. Nair says: “There are some plants like Chittamrithu (Heart-leaved Moonseed) which absorbs almost every metal mineral from the soil. For example, if a certain herb is grown near a battery dump yard, it is most likely that the plant will have presence of lead in it. It is the same case when herbs like Brahmi are cultivated near seashores which may show high salt content in them. In most cases, these metals and minerals are eliminated during the stage of processing which involves washing, drying and boiling. However, we want to take extra steps to neutralise the contaminants which may still be present in the raw materials,” he says.
Pankajakasthuri Herbals exports its products to 13 countries and the Ministry of Health in Malaysia has classified its products as medicine. The company also has plans to expand its area of operation within the country. At present, Pankajakasthuri has its products marketed in States like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Delhi and Maharashtra. “I wish to expand our operations to North Indian States as well. Our focus will be on gaining national acceptability for Pankajakasthuri products,’’ he says.
SOP IN RAW MATERIAL PROCURING
The company selects vendors who can provide uncontaminated and purest raw materials. Once the raw material refining and cleaning are completed at the company’s factory at Poovachal, the quality of raw material herbs are compared against standardised charts. During the process of manufacturing, quality of drug components is tested at the in-house lab and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Lab. “We do not market any product without getting certified after extensive laboratory testing,” he says.
The production facility of Pankajakasthuri Herbals is a 1.5-lakh sq.ft. four-storey building equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. “Most machineries are tailor-made for us so as to help retain the original quality of medicines, especially of those classical Ayurveda concoctions like kashayam, lehyam etc. The Group currently employs 760 people.
“The prayers, cooperation and collective effort of all my employees are the reasons for the company’s achievements till date,” says a contended Dr. Nair. The company has an annual turnover of more than Rs. 100 crore. “Of course, my focus will be on increasing the turnover in the coming years. But more importantly, I will work relentlessly for increasing the acceptability of Ayurvedic medicines through continuous research and development programs.
Dr. Hareendran Nair feels the greatest achievement in his illustrious career as an Ayurveda practitioner is that he could help generate widespread acceptance for the ancient medical system. “At a time when people started distancing themselves from Ayurveda, I was able to contribute to the collective efforts of many stalwarts in the field to make it acceptable and accessible,” says Dr. Nair.
The Pankajakasthuri man became an Ayurveda doctor in 1983 after graduating from Ayurveda College in Thiruvananthapuram. Although Pankajakasthuri was established at a slightly later stage in his career, Dr. Nair has always been able to gauge people’s perception of Ayurveda as an acceptable form of medical stream.
Until a decade-and-a-half ago, there was not as much skepticism among the takers of Ayurveda as it is today. Lifestyle diseases which are caused by various habits could be treated by Ayurveda. However, the change in perception or as Dr. Nair says, the ‘‘manufactured perception’’ about Ayurvedic medicines, often force people to think twice before going for Ayurveda treatment. “People are worried about the presence of carcinogenic heavy metals in Ayurvedic concoctions and other side effects. In the past, Ayurveda was accepted by all by understanding its purity,” says Dr. Nair brushing aside such claims.
What makes Dr. Nair unique in Ayurveda practice has been his efforts to formulate medicines which could heal certain medical conditions like asthma. There is a common perception that Ayurveda medicines can offer only temporary reprieve. One such achievement of Dr. Nair is his medicinal creation – Breathe Easy – which, for the last 31 years, has been a very popular product in the market. Besides India, Breathe Easy is sold in 13 countries, treating allergic cough and sneezing, asthmatic bronchitis, allergic bronchitis, eosinophilia and sinusitis. “Breathe Easy’s formula makes broncho-dilation, expectoration and immune-modulation possible, thereby increasing chances of healing the disease,” Dr. Nair says.
At Pankajakasthuri Herbals, all medicinal formulations for manufacturing are prepared by Dr. Nair himself by applying the science of Ayurveda. For finding the correct medicinal formulations, he spent two years in research and development following his resignation from a research project of Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS), Government of India during 1987.
The future of any company is largely dependent on its ability to devise an effective succession plan, which helps nurture future leadership. “On that count, I am happy that I am able to groom the next generation to take the company forward,” he says. Dr. Nair’s nephew Arun Visakh Nair is the Director of Sales and Marketing. His two daughters - Dr. Kasthuri and Dr. Kaveri are now pursuing PG in Ayurveda at Pankajakasthuri Ayurveda Medical College. Kishan Chand, son-in-law of Dr. Nair is the Executive Director of the Group. Besides, his nieces Dr. Lekshmi and Dr. Ayswarya are also involved in the business.
Dr. J Hareendran Nair
Age: 58 Years
Drives: Audi Q7
Favourite Cuisine: Kerala
Family: Asha (Spouse), Dr. Kasthuri and Dr. Kaveri (Daughters)
Loves to do in free time: Listening to music