Madras HC vacates ban on online medicine sale

Chennai: A division bench of the Madras High Court today vacated the ban on the sale of online medicines passed by a single judge on 17 December till statutory rules to regulate the trade were notified by the Union government.

The court’s ruling came after a group of e-pharmacy companies had filed an appeal.

Passing the interim orders on a batch of writ appeals by e-pharma firms were Justices M Sathyanarayanan and P Rajamanickam. The judges clarified that the reasons for lifting the ban would apply “only to the limited extent of lifting the ban and not for final disposal of the appeals.”

This means that the court’s decision today is not the final verdict and that would have to wait till the next hearing on 24 January.

The ban was imposed following a writ petition filed by the Tamilnadu Chemists and Druggists Association, which contended that it was illegal to sell medicines through online portals and mobile phone apps when the proposed amendments to Drugs and Cosmetics Rules of 1945 were still in the draft stage and yet to be notified in the Gazette.

However, at the request of a host of a league of senior counsel representing the e-pharma firms, the judge kept the implementation of her order in abeyance till they prefer an appeal.

The e-pharma firms contended that their trade could not be termed as an illegal activity when the Centre itself had proposed only to regulate the trade by subjecting it to statutory laws. Imposing a ban would lead to chaos among people dependent on online sale, they contended.

Speaking to News Today about Madras High Court’s decision to lift the ban, Tamilnadu Chemists and Druggists Association president K Manoharan said, “The Delhi High Court had also issued a ban on online pharmacies and it is not clear if that is also stayed. We have to wait till the final court order copy is in hand to figure out our next move.”

He added that the Court’s decision to lift the ban on e-pharmacies today does not allow them the provision to sell Schedule H or Schedule X drugs which includes powerful antibiotics and narcotic and psychotropic substances-based drugs.

Countering the claim by e-pharma companies that a ban would lead to chaos among people dependent on online sale, a member of the pharmacy council said, currently India has over 850,000 independent pharmacy retail stores and online pharmacy contribute to only 1 per cent of the total therapeutic sales.

Brick and mortar pharmacy retailers across the city have expressed their dismay at the court’s ruling today. Owner of a pharmacy based in Anna Nagar said, “How can any industry, let alone a pharmacy, function without any proper government rules. The rules have to be equal for online and brick and mortar pharmacies like us. If it is not, till such rules are framed, the sale of online drugs should be stopped. The government and the courts have thrown stones on the heads of small retail pharmacy owners like us by going in favour of e-pharmacy giants who are worth several crores in net worth.”

NT Bureau