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Delhi HC to Hear Petitions on Banning Online Sale of Medicines on Merit

Written by : Jayati Dubey

July 11, 2024

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The South Chemists & Distributors Association (SCDA), a trader's body based in Delhi, approached the High Court to seek a ban on online pharmacies.

The Delhi High Court has moved to hear petitions seeking a ban on the online sale of medicines on merit.

By ‘on merit’ it implies, the court will examine the substance of the arguments and evidence presented in the case rather than dismissing it on procedural grounds or technicalities. The court will evaluate the legal and factual basis of the petitions to determine whether there is a valid reason to impose a ban on the online sale of medicines.

This decision comes after the central government informed the HC Division Bench that it has been unable to frame rules for e-pharmacies, as reported by one of the petitioners.

Reportedly, the next hearing is scheduled for September 3rd, 2024.

Event Recap

The South Chemists & Distributors Association (SCDA), a trader's body based in Delhi, approached the High Court to seek a ban on online pharmacies back in October 2018.

When the matter was heard on May 8, the Central government admitted its inability to frame the necessary rules. This follows a series of extensions provided by the Court for the government to draft a policy.

In its hearing on March 4, 2024, the Court provided the central government a final opportunity to frame a policy for the online sale of drugs. The Court warned it would proceed to hear the matter on merit if the government failed to meet the deadline.

Despite several past opportunities, including a draft notification issued on August 28, 2018, the government has not been able to establish a concrete policy.

Arguments Presented

Following the central government's submission, the Court will hear the matter on merit, considering arguments from SCDA and online pharmacy firms.

SCDA's counsels, Sudhir Nandarjog and Amit Gupta, highlighted various provisions under the Drugs & Cosmetics Act 1940 and Rules 1945 that govern the sale of medicines in India.

They argued that the sale of medicines is completely prohibited without a valid license under the mentioned legislation.

The counsels noted that no rules currently permit the online sale of drugs, a point also acknowledged by the Union of India in an affidavit in the High Court.

Regulatory Challenges & Sub-Committee Findings

The petitioner referred to a report by a sub-committee constituted by the Drugs Consultative Committee (DCC).

The report stated that "the sub-committee is of the view that until the systems and specific provisions are in place, e-pharmacy may not be allowed."

On behalf of various private entities, it was submitted that they operate strictly within the law and possess the necessary licenses. They explained the different models online pharmacies use to sell drugs, asserting their compliance with existing regulations.

Previous Hearings

The next hearing is scheduled for September 3rd, 2024. During the previous hearings, the central government requested additional time, highlighting the complexity of the issue.

The government stated that changes to the manner of drug sales would have far-reaching consequences, requiring amendments to multiple Acts and regulations, including the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940; Pharmacy Act, 1948; Pharmacy Practice Regulations, 2015; Indian Medical Act, 1956; Code of Ethics Regulations, 2002; and the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare further emphasized that modifications would necessitate changes in how these Acts and regulations are operated and enforced by all respective stakeholders.


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