08 January 2016 09:24:34 IST

E-pharmacies say no ban on online sale of medicines

Drug regulator’s notice only seeks strict compliance of drugs/cosmetics law

The latest circular from the Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI) does not impose any ban on online pharmacies but only seeks strict adherence to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and Rules.

The circular dated December 30, a copy of which was seen by BusinessLine , has no mention of any temporary or permanent ban on e-pharmacies, which act as a marketplace for offline medical stores.

These online players do not directly sell any medicines. The notice sent to various State FDAs says that there should be a strict vigil on the online sale of medicines. Prashant Tandon, founder of 1mg (formerly Healthkartplus) said: “We do not stock any medicines but get them fulfilled to our customers only after they upload the prescriptions.

“The fulfilment is done by the local stores present on our platform. We abide by all guidelines and have taken all measures, wherein customers cannot even search for any ‘sensitive’ medicines or schedule X medicines such as sleeping pills and drugs falling under Narcotics, MTP kits or erectile dysfunction medicines.”

He further added that the circular has not specifically mentioned about the kind of violation, and hence, there is no clarity on the same. The Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945, under which the circular has been issued, regulates the sale and distribution of drugs in the country and does not distinguish between conventional and over the Internet sale of drugs.

However, in the recent past, a few trade bodies of offline pharmacies have filed complaints raising issues that online medical stores are violating provisions under the Act.

Dharmil Sheth, Founder of PharmEasy, a Mumbai-based online marketplace for small mom and pop medical stores, said: “I strongly feel it is a fight between the big organised players and small stores, who empowered with technology, are giving tough competition to the large players. There have been violations in the offline space too. For example, a drug like Crocin also needs prescription but no one asks for it.”

Netmeds.com, another online player based out of Chennai, also is an aggregator of both organised and unorganised retailers.

Its founder Pradeep Dadha said the company is fully complied with all the rules stated by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and does not allow any fulfilment of medicines without a proper prescription.

Meanwhile, a few industry experts tracking the online retailing are of the view that the offline players could be miffed with the fact that online players offer better pricing with 10-20 per cent discount, leading to the growing popularity of these sites.

There are over 15-20 odd online players who have come up in this space in the last few years.

In October last year, the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), an umbrella body of over eight lakh druggists and chemists, went on a nationwide strike to demand action from the Centre against “illegal” online sale of medicine.