Written by : Jayati Dubey
November 17, 2023
The court previously instructed the Centre to provide a status report on petitions urging a ban on the "illegal" online drug trade, challenging draft rules from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to further amend the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules.
The Delhi High Court has asked the Indian government to draft a policy on the online sale of medicines within eight weeks. The court emphasised that the issue has been unresolved for an extended period, and the government must expedite the process. The Court has said this timeline should be considered as the final opportunity to complete the task.
If the policy is not formulated within the stipulated time, the joint secretary responsible for the matter must personally appear in court on March 4, 2024, the next hearing date.
The court had previously directed the Centre to submit a status report on petitions calling for a ban on the "illegal" online sale of drugs. The petitions challenge the draft rules published by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to further amend the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules.
Representing the South Chemists and Distributors Association, advocate Amit Gupta contested the August 2018 notification, claiming that the draft rules were being pushed through in "serious violation" of the law, neglecting the health hazards posed by the unregulated online sale of medicines.
Another petitioner, Zaheer Ahmed, sought contempt action against e-pharmacies for continuing to sell drugs online despite a court order stopping such activity.
During the hearing, senior advocate Sudhir Nandrajog, representing the petitioner association, highlighted that despite the Centre's claims of taking action, illegal online drug sales persist. The Centre's counsel mentioned that consultations and deliberations are ongoing regarding a draft notification on the online sale of drugs.
The court acknowledged the validity of the petitioners' concerns and urged the Centre to expedite the process, emphasising the prolonged duration of the issue. The Delhi High Court had previously suspended the sale of drugs without a license by online pharmacies on December 12, 2018, during Ahmed's Public Interest Litigation (PIL).
The PIL also sought contempt action against the central government for allegedly not taking action against e-pharmacies that continued to sell drugs online despite the court's order. Some e-pharmacies argued that they do not need a licence for online drug sales as they only deliver medications, similar to food delivery apps like Swiggy.
The court had earlier sought responses from the Centre, Delhi government, Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, and the Pharmacy Council of India. The PIL claimed that the "illegal" sale of medicines online could lead to a "drug epidemic," drug abuse, and the misuse of habit-forming and addictive drugs, posing a significant risk to public health and lives.
The petitioner argued that the absence of a mechanism to control online medicine sales increases the risk of spurious, misbranded, and sub-standard drugs being sold.
The PIL highlighted that despite the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and other authorities concluding that online medicine sales contravene the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, and other laws, a large number of drugs are still being sold online daily.
It emphasised the potential threats to patients and humanity, including the sale of drugs containing narcotic and psychotropic substances and the risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The PIL also expressed concerns about children using the internet and potentially becoming victims of wrong medications, emphasising that drugs are potent substances and consuming the wrong dose or fake medicine can have fatal consequences.