NEW DELHI - India's top court on Monday accused some drug companies of using Indians like "guinea pigs" in illegal clinical trials as it ordered the government to submit a report on the practice.
Rights groups have raised concern that India has become a hotspot for drug trials, with hospital patients sometimes used unwittingly to test new drugs by leading pharmaceutical companies.
Low costs, weak laws and inadequate enforcement and penalties have made India an attractive destination for the tests, the groups say.
"This is most unfortunate that clinical trials take place and people are dying. What action has been taken?" Supreme Court Judges R.M. Lodha and A.S Dave said on Monday in New Delhi.
"There has to be some sense of responsibility. Human beings are treated like guinea pigs."
The judges also criticised the government for failing to submit a report in time in response to a public interest case filed by a group of doctors and a voluntary organisation, Swasthya Adhikar Manch (Health Rights Group).
The petitioners claim several patients in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh seeking medical help were used in drug tests and this was "unethical and illegal".
The group said they have compiled and submitted a report of more than 200 cases where patients were subjected to clinical trials to check the efficacy of various drugs without seeking their permission.
In May, a government panel found serious problems with the way approvals for foreign drugs are given and clinical trials are being carried out.
Earlier this year, 12 doctors accused of conducting secret drug trials on children and patients with learning disabilities were let off after they paid fines of less than $100 each.
Faced with mounting criticism, the Indian Council of Medical Research in 2011 had sought proposals from doctors and health activists on new draft guidelines for compensation to be paid to people undertaking drug trials.