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Updated: Madras HC stays ban on e-pharmas; wait and watch game for regulation

Update on January 7

What the e-pharmacies appealed

  • Practo claimed that it ensures that sale and purchase records of medicines are stored, and Schedule H and H1 drugs are not sold without valid prescriptions
  • Pharmeasy said that it acts as an intermediary to connect customers with registered retail pharmacies; that it does not stock, sell or distribute any drugs, but merely provides delivery services. The e-pharmacy further said that it does not allow the sale of Schedule X drugs even when a customer holds a valid prescription, and that 25 licensed pharmacies are currently empaneled with Pharmeasy.
  • 1MG said that it is merely a technology platform connecting customers to retail pharmacies, and further asserted that the current law under the Drugs & Cosmetics Act and the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, or the draft rules for online pharmacies do not prohibit online sale of medicines.
  • Medlife said that its business is legal and operates with licenses. It has 400 pharmacies empaneled under it, with whom it undertakes retail or wholesale business. All sales on Medlife are conducted after receiving a prescription from a registered doctor.
  • NetMeds asserted that it holds all licenses for retail and wholesale trade.

Earlier on January 4: 

The Madras HC, on January 2, has stayed an earlier order which banned the online sale of medicines until further notice, saying that patients would be affected if sales were banned suddenly. A division bench of Justice M Sathyanarayanan and Justice P Rajamanickam granted the interim stay

Why Madras HC stayed the ban; e-pharma reactions

The bench observed that online sale of medicines have been ongoing already, and banning online sale of medicines would harm the growth of the nascent industry. The bench also observed that people are not always in a position to go out and buy medicines.

NetMeds, which was one of the online pharmacies appealing in the case, has welcomed the stay. “We are extremely grateful for the observations made by bench which validates the work that we have put in for the last three years. As part of the observations, the bench recognized that mechanisms are in place to prevent any real abuse of process by the online pharma sector. One of the most pertinent observations made was that the Central Government is not opposed to online pharmacies, and is actively putting in place systems for regulating the sales.… We are fully committed and invested in healthcare we will continue to adhere to all the guidelines and standards set by the Drugs and Cosmetic Act of 1940,” Pradeep Dadha, NetMeds CEO said in a statement.

Dharmil Sheth, Co-founder & CEO, Pharmeasy, said, “We are glad to have this verdict on the ongoing case. Online pharmacies are bringing in lot of transparency in the entire supply chain and consumers will benefit a lot out of this.

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Regulation for e-pharmas not yet notified

The earlier order by Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana from last month had banned the sale of medicines online until the Union Health Ministry and Central Drugs Standards Control Organization (CDSCO) notified the Drugs and Cosmetics Amendment Rules, 2018 – the newly drafted rules governing the online sale of medicines.

This order was passed in a petition filed by the traders’ association Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association (TNCDA). The court, in its order, demanded that the Union Government and the CDSCO notify rules for the online sale of medicines at the earliest and no later than January 31, 2019. It reprimanded the Union Health Ministry for prolonging drafting of the rules governing e-pharmacies, noting that the rules remain in draft stage, two years after the Union government took up the process. 

Last month, the Delhi HC also banned the online sale of medicines last month, and directed the Delhi government, among others, to implement the order. The order was passed in a petition filed by Delhi-based dermatologist Dr Zaheer Ahmed. The PIL argued that the medicines are sold without regulation, and online sale of medicines increases the risk of spurious drugs being sold.

This story was updated with additional information after MediaNama accessed a copy of the interim order by Madras HC. 

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