A blanket ban on e-pharmacies is unjust when its the government that needs to finalise rules
In September 2018, the Centre published a set of draft rules for regulating e-pharmacies, inviting feedback from the public. At the time, many hailed it as a progressive move since the players in the space could now move forward on compliance and certainty. But, more than a year later, the future of e-pharmacies is under the shadow of uncertainty. First, the Delhi and Madras High Courts had banned online sale of medicines—the Madras HC later vacated its order. Now, the Drug Controller General of India, a department of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), has asked all states and union territories to prohibit the sale of drugs through unlicenced online platforms. Most e-pharmacies operate through licenced offline pharmacies to execute orders, and given there are no explicit rules about e-pharma licensing yet, it isn’t clear if the current rules impact these or not. More important, in the absence of government clarification, everything is left to the interpretation of CDSCO. If the CDSCO is to consider the current model legitimate, the likes of Netmed and 1mg shall continue to operate, but if it considers licensing for these companies as necessary, then most online sales will be banned till the government comes out with rules for the segment.
While the Delhi High Court recently ordered the Delhi government and the Centre to stop the sale of scheduled drugs without prescription, the government seems to lack the tools to address this. Though the government has norms against sales of scheduled drugs, and online players do require uploading of prescription, local pharma stores often don’t adhere to the rules. By mandating the same set of rules for e-pharmacies and offline ones, but implementing it mostly for the former, the government could be queering the playing field.