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Maharashtra FDA lodges FIR against Snapdeal CEO Kunal Bahl for selling prescription drugs


Maharashtra’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has filed an FIR against Snapdeal CEO Kunal Bahl and the company’s directors for selling prescription drugs on the e-commerce marketplace, reports Business Standard.

Maharashtra FDA commissioner Harshdeep Kamble told the publication that the prescription drugs available on Snapdeal included sildenafil citrate tablets (Viagra), that only urologists, psychiatrists, endocrinologists and dermatologists can prescribe. He also mentioned that only licensed chemists can sell Schedule H drugs like emergency contraceptives that are available on Snapdeal, and that a doctor’s prescription is required to buy the same. Apparently, this isn’t all: a total of 45 drugs were found to be displayed for sale on the site with “objectionable claims”, and were in violation of the Drugs & Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act, 1954.

Last month, Maharashtra FDA had raided Snapdeal’s Mumbai office after being alerted that the online marketplace was selling Viagra and Ascoril, a cough syrup, without prescriptions. The company had been asked to stop selling prescription drugs and had subsequently de-listed sellers the drugs. However, it seems some of the other sellers continued offering prescription drugs for sale on Snapdeal, which has landed the company in a soup. Currently, the company has removed all listings of products even remotely related to health & medicines. See here, here, here and here.

It needs to be pointed out that, since Snapdeal is a marketplace (Intermediary), it is somewhat protected by Section 79 of the IT Act, 2008. It proffers safe harbor to Intermediaries, as long as they act on complaints and do not knowingly allow the usage of their platform to break the law. So, legally Snapdeal seems to be on safe ground, however as we have pointed out earlier there is a need for better understanding of the responsibility, accountability and liability of platforms, marketplaces and aggregators. There’s no doubt that online aggregators and marketplaces are good for consumers and competition. But then who is accountable, when things get screwed up? And what about the liability of these platforms?

One possible measure that Snapdeal can take to ensure that prescription drugs aren’t listed on its marketplace, is to introduce a more stringent verification process between the “submission of a product for listing by a seller” and “the product listing going live on the site” stages.

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Earlier this year, a Delhi-based lawyer had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) against Snapdeal Chennai-based Ohmysecrets.com for selling vibrators and some other products that were apparently in violation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, along with other acts such as section 292, 292 A, 293 and 294 which prohibit obscenity in public.

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