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Will e-pharmacies in India be banned in light of pending policy on the sale of online drugs?

As the Delhi High Court gives the Union government another deadline for a draft policy on e-pharmacy regulation, offline pharma-unions discuss a potential ban on the online sale of drugs altogether

What’s the News: Sale of drugs online may be completely banned in India, said the South Chemists and Distributors Association following a court direction to the Indian government to present a draft policy for the same within eight weeks from November 16, 2023.

Government framing policy since 2018: The Delhi High Court in its latest hearing of a 2018 PIL seeking a ban on online sale of drugs observed that the government has had over five years to frame a policy for the regulation of the online sale. It said, “…in the interest of justice, one last opportunity is given to the UOI [Union of India] to frame the policy with regard to online sale of drugs within eight weeks.”

Further, the court said that if the government fails to frame a policy within the stipulated period, the Joint Secretary dealing with this policy will have to be “personally present in Court” on the next date of hearing. The matter was then listed to March 4, 2024.

SCDA says policy unlikely to be ready in eight weeks: Responding to the news, the SCDA in a recent mail to MediaNama said, “It is extremely difficult and unlikely that the rules for the online sale of drugs can be constituted within the next 8 weeks, owing to massive infrastructure development required. Keeping in view of the show cause notices issued by the Drug Controller General of India in February 2023, it is highly likely that the online sale of drugs shall be completely banned by the Government of India shortly.”

The 2018 PIL was filed by a Delhi-based pharmacist Zaheer Ahmed against the “unregulated” sale of drugs online by e-pharmacies and alleged it being a violation of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. At the time, the Court banned the e-pharmacies from selling drugs online which led to multiple show cause notices being issued to companies like Tata1mg, PharmEasy, etc. by drug controllers.

Draft e-pharmacy regulations pending since 2018: In the same year that Ahmed filed the PIL, the government released a draft policy to regulate online pharmacy operations as amendments to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. The draft, notified via an extraordinary Gazette of India dated August 28, 2018, note4dly talked about a licensing process for e-pharmacies, informative portal for the proper sale of the drugs, safeguards for patient data and data localization, advertising, monitoring and prohibitions for e-pharmacy companies. In August 2023, the government had asked for six weeks to finalise the draft policy but there still hasn’t been any movement on the policy.

In 2022, a Parliamentary Standing Committee had asked for “stringent regulation of the e-health and e-pharmacy sector” considering the “potential harm it can cause to health of end user in case of misuse.”

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Written By

I'm interested in the shaping and strengthening of rights in the digital space. I cover cybersecurity, platform regulation, gig worker economy. In my free time, I'm either binge-watching an anime or off on a hike.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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