All India Organisation of Chemist and Druggists (AIOCD) has cautioned Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus, Tata Group, and N Chandrasekaran, chairman Tata Group, against investments in online pharmacy platforms before well defined rules and regulations are in place in India.
In a letter addressed to Tata and Chandrasekaran on November 6, AIOCD president J S Shinde and secretary Rajiv Singhal listed out the reasons why they consider that e-pharmacies should be allowed in the country in its present form and why it may not be a good business proposition even if India amends relevant rules and laws to make online sale of medicines legal.
AIOCD, which has a membership strength of 8.5 lakh retail and wholesale medicine sellers, has been opposing online pharmacies ever since the government mooted the idea of allowing such players in the country. While there are several online medicine sales models already existing in the country, bulk of medicine sales is happening offline.
AIOCD has also written similar letters in the past to online giant Amazon, and India's biggest corporate player Reliance after hearing about their plans to enter the business segment.
"We are just telling them that under the Drugs & Cosmetics Act 1940 there is no provision for online pharmacies, and no decision has so far been taken by the government to amend the Act. We are also informing them that AIOCD's appeal on this issue is pending with the central government as well as in the court of law. We are just stating the facts," Shinde told BusinessToday.In.
According to AIOCD, the mainstay of the rules under Drugs and Cosmetics Act is on prescription and procedure of dispensation. "A prescription, in original, is required for every 'prescription drug' being sold. The rules also specify that the prescription for certain drugs needs to be endorsed during sale.
Further, the dispensation has to take place from a licensed premise for which the license has been issued by the Competent Authority. Therefore, sale of prescription drugs and medicines through online medium is illegal," the organisation states.
AIOCD also argues that the legal regime does not permit home delivery of medicines and the recent government approval to do it was temporary, due to emergency situation arising out of COVID-19 pandemic.
"Allowing dispensation of medicines by home delivery will require extensive modification to the Drug and Cosmetics Act also apart from the Rules and the same has been accepted by the Union of India in its affidavit before the High Court of Madras," the body says.
The letter also cites examples from Australia, US and UK to show that online sale of medicines in these countries are approved with some riders.
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"We are not opposed to the amendments. If the government can take care of the problems highlighted by us, if there is an amendment in the law, and it becomes legal, we may also explore this option," Shinde said.
What prompted AIOCD to write the letter was the news that Tata Group was considering investing in online pharmacy 1MG.com.