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Centre suspends Aarogya Setu Mitr in response to petition by chemists’ association in Delhi High Court

The central government has suspended the Aarogya Setu Mitr portal, which is linked to the Aarogya Setu app, in response to a writ petition filed by Delhi-based South Chemists & Distributors Association. This was first reported by The Print. Aarogyasetumitr is down and currently shows a 404 error.

The association had approached the court last month alleging that the website acted as a marketing tool for only e-pharmacies, and did not mention the local brick-and-mortar pharmacies. It had sought direction that the name “Aarogya Setu” not be misused to sponsor the commercial interests of “arbitrarily hand-picked entities”. It also sought immediate closure of the website.

Aarogya Setu Mitr (see an archived version here) is a website that aggregates services providing delivery of medicines COVID-19 teleconsultations, home sample collection for lab tests. Online medicine delivery was offered by existing e-pharmacy platforms such as 1mg, NetMeds, PharmEasy, and MedLife. It is a public-private partnership between the the government’s Principal Scientific Advisor and NITI Aayog, with “voluntary participation” from organisations, industry coalitions, and startups.

The rules framed under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, which regulates the sale of all medicines in the country, do not have a provision that allows online sale of medicines. Draft rules allowing this have remained in limbo since August 2018.

The chemists association has previously gone to court against several online pharmacies, including 1mg, opposing their functioning in the absence of a law. Their petition was later combined with a similar petition by Delhi-based Dr Zaheer Ahmed. The court had even placed a interim ban on online sale of medicines in December 2018, but this was never implemented. Proceedings for a contempt petition filed by Dr Ahmed last year are still ongoing in the Delhi HC.

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On March 26, the government allowed all licensed pharmacies to deliver medicines at doorstep, invoking a provision of the Act that empowers the government to regulate sale or distribution of any drugs essential during an epidemic or natural calamity.

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