The Centre has urged the Delhi High Court to grant some time to frame a policy on the online sale of medicines on the grounds that the issue was "complex" and any modification in the manner of sale of drugs would have far-reaching consequences.

The High Court granted the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare four months as a last and final opportunity to frame the policy.

A bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet PS Arora made clear that "if the draft policy is not prepared before the next date of hearing, this court will have no other option but to proceed ahead with the matter".

The HC, which was hearing several petitions seeking a ban on the "illegal" sale of drugs online and challenging the draft rules published by the Ministry to further amend the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, listed the matter for further hearing on July 8.

It had earlier asked the Centre to file a status report on the petitions.

During the recent hearing, the Joint Secretary of the Ministry was present in court in pursuance of its November last year order in which the bench observed that more than five years had lapsed and the Union of India has had sufficient time to frame the policy.

The officer sought four months more to frame the policy for the online sale of drugs as per the draft notification of August 28, 2018.

The Central Government submitted that the subject of the online sale of drugs is of a complex nature and any modification in the manner of sale of drugs will have far-reaching consequences.

It said this will involve changes in many other Acts and rules apart from the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, Pharmacy Act, Pharmacy Practice Regulations, Indian Medical Act, Code of Ethics Regulations and the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act.

Challenging the August 2018 notification, the petitioner, South Chemists and Distributors Association has said that the draft rules are being pushed through in "serious violation" of the law, ignoring the health hazards caused by to sale of medicines online without proper regulations.

Petitioner Zaheer Ahmed has sought contempt action against e-pharmacies for continuing to sell drugs online despite a high court order staying such activity.

The high court had on December 12, 2018, stayed the sale of drugs without licence by online pharmacies while hearing Ahmed's PIL.

The petition also sought contempt action against the Central Government for allegedly not taking action against the defaulting e-pharmacies.

Some of the e-pharmacies had earlier told the high court that they do not require a licence for the online sale of drugs and prescription medicines as they do not sell them and instead, they are only delivering the medications akin to the food delivery app Swiggy.

The court had earlier sought responses from the Centre, Delhi government, Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation and the Pharmacy Council of India to the petition.

The petitioner had said the "illegal" sale of medicines online will lead to a "drug epidemic", drug abuse and misutilisation of habit-forming and addictive drugs.

The PIL said since there was no mechanism to control the sale of medicines online, it puts the health and lives of people at a high risk and affects their right to a safe and healthy life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

It claimed the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, and an expert committee appointed by the drug consultative committee have already concluded the online sale of medicines is in contravention of the provisions of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and other allied laws.