The Delhi High Court has granted the Central Government a final opportunity to establish a policy regulating the online sale of drugs or medicines within eight weeks.
The court was hearing a batch of petitions, including a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in 2018 by Dr. Zaheer Ahmed. The PIL called for a ban on the “illegal” sale of drugs and medicines online, citing concerns over self-medication, the sale of drugs without prescriptions, and the availability of psychotropic substances.
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Mini Pushkarna acknowledged the Centre's counsel's submission that deliberations were ongoing regarding a draft notification from August 28, 2018, related to the online sale of drugs.
The bench expressed that over five years had elapsed since the matter was first brought to attention, and the Union of India had ample time to formulate a policy.
In December 2018, the high court issued an order staying the online sale of medicines by e-pharmacies, as this practice was not permitted under existing laws like the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, and the Pharmacy Act, 1948.
Another plea within the same batch, filed by the South Chemists and Distributors Association, sought the closure of online pharmacy companies selling drugs and prescription medicines via websites. This plea argued that such sales were illegal and lacked legal backing.
The sale and purchase of drugs are governed by various legislations and rules, including the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940; Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945; Pharmacy Act, 1948; Pharmacy Practice Regulations, 2015; Indian Medical Act, 1956; Code of Ethics Regulations, 2002; and Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act, 1954.
The petition claimed that online pharmacies were not adhering to these provisions and were operating unchecked.
The petition also contended that this situation was in violation of Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution, as it resulted in an uneven playing field between online and offline pharmacies.
The Centre had previously informed the high court that a proposal to frame rules to regulate e-pharmacies was under consideration but required more time. This response came after the bench requested a status report on a petition seeking a ban on the illegal online sale of drugs.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare's draft rules were challenged in the plea for further amending the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules. The petitioner's lawyer argued that although the rules had been in the process of being framed for the last 5-6 years, no concrete action had been taken.
The petition also sought contempt action against e-pharmacies for continuing to sell drugs online despite a high court order prohibiting such activity. It also called for contempt action against the Central government for allegedly failing to take steps against the defaulting e-pharmacies.