E-pharmacies ask for a fresh prescription

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on December 05, 2019

The All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists has moved court against online sale of drugs in various cities   -  istock.com/ironstealth

Lack of regulation puts them in a spot

E-pharmacies have urged the Centre to bring out a notification for regulating online drug sales.

“In the past four years, there have been more than five stakeholders’ consultations for regulating the sector. In August last year, a draft notification on regulations was released.

“But since then there has been no headway on regulating the sector,” Dharmil Sheth, co-founder and CEO of Mumbai-based Pharmeasy, told Businessline.

On November 28, Drug Controller General of India VG Somani wrote to all State drug controllers, urging them to follow the Delhi High Court order on regulating e-pharmacies. In the order issued by the court on December 12 last year, it was stated that online sale of medicines without a licence should be prohibited. Sheth said that in the past year, drug inspectors have approached retail vendors with whom Pharmeasy has a tie-up.

“Every time, we have to explain to the regulators that we are licensed operators and hold the warehouse license under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, and also licences for wholesaling and so on,” Sheth said.

‘Dubious sales’

Prashant Tandon, founder and CEO of 1mg, said that while his company is doing responsible business, there are certain mysterious online platforms operating from abroad which are involved in dubious drug sales.

It is difficult to track their transactions, and thus it is important to have regulations to demarcate between those companies which follow the rulebook as opposed to the dubious ones, he added.

Unregulated e-pharmacies may throw up a fear of money laundering, said former Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Mahesh Zagade. “For example, a person sitting in Canada may procure medicines from Maharashtra for say $50. While only a partial payment of $5 is made to the chemist in Maharashtra, $45 get routed to Carribean Islands, while a local person in India may later reimburse $45 to the chemist in Maharashtra.”

Currently, e-pharmacies such as Pharmeasy, Netmeds, 1mg and Medlife are battling out various court cases in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Patna and Tamil Nadu, and as the matters remain sub judice, they continue to function. “In none of the cases have the State regulators enforced any penalty on our functioning or shut down our operations, but they time and again seek explanations on our model of running, and serve us notices,” Sheth said.

The All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) has moved court against online sale of drugs in various cities. “I don’t understand why AIOCD has moved court against us, even as their retail vendors continue to partner with us to supply drugs online,” Sheth said.

Tandon said that while certain online platforms operating from foreign shores don’t have a face, the Indian companies are duly registered and are capable of tracking and tracing every prescription.

It also makes budding entrepreneurs wary of entering the sector which affects ease of doing business. “With a current market size of ₹ 2,000-3,000 crore and a potential to grow to up to a $3-billion market by 2024, the lack of regulation is creating impediments,” Tandon said.

Published on December 05, 2019

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