New Delhi: The Delhi High Court Wednesday asked the Centre to file a status report on petitions seeking a ban on “illegal” sale of drugs online. A bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad listed the matter for further hearing on May 22 after the Centre’s counsel said a proposal for framing rules to regulate e-pharmacies was under consideration and some more time was needed.
The petitioner’s lawyer interjected the rules are being framed for the last 5-6 years but nothing concrete has been done yet. The court was hearing the pleas seeking a ban on “illegal” sale of drugs online and challenging the draft rules published by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to further amend the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules.
Petitioner association South Chemists and Distributors Association, which has challenged the ministry’s August 2018 notification, said the draft rules are being pushed through in serious violation of the law, ignoring the health hazards caused due to sale of medicines online without proper regulations.
Petitioner Zaheer Ahmed has sought contempt action against the e-pharmacies for continuing to sell drugs online despite a high court order staying such activity. The petition also seeks contempt action against the central government for allegedly not taking any step against the defaulting e-pharmacies.
The high court had on December 12, 2018 stayed the sale of drugs without licence by online pharmacies while hearing Ahmed’s PIL.
Some of the e-pharmacies had earlier told the high court that they do not require a licence for online sale of drugs and prescription medicines as they do not sell them and instead they are only delivering the medications akin to food delivery app Swiggy.
Just like Swiggy does not require a restaurant’s licence to deliver food, they do not need a licence to deliver medicines to customers who purchase drugs online, the e-pharmacies had told the court. The submission had come during the hearing of the plea seeking contempt action against e-pharmacies for continuing to sell drugs online despite a high court order staying such activity.
The court had earlier sought responses of the Centre, Delhi government, Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation and the Pharmacy Council of India to the petition. The petitioner had said “llegal” 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 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.
“Online pharmacies are operating without a drug licence and cannot be regulated in the present regime. Unregulated and unlicensed sale of medicines will increase risk of spurious, misbranded and sub-standard drugs being sold,” the plea said.
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 Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and the other allied laws.
Still lakhs of drugs are being sold on internet every day, it said, adding some of the drugs/ medicines contain narcotic and psychotropic substances and some can cause antibiotic resistant-bacteria which is a threat not only to the patient but to the humanity at large.
“It is a matter of public knowledge that e-commerce websites have been caught on numerous occasions selling fake products. Unlike consumer items, drugs are extremely potent substances and consuming wrong dose or fake medicine can have fatal consequences on the patient,” it had said. A large number of children use the Internet and they could be victims of wrong medications, it added.