Online medicine sales policy: Centre seeks deadline extension, Delhi HC says 'last chance'

The petitioner has sought contempt action against e-pharmacies for continuing to sell drugs online despite a 2018 HC order staying such activity

Representative image
Representative image


The Centre has urged Delhi High Court to allow it some more time to frame a policy on the online sales 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 has 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 P.S. Arora made it 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 high court, 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 8 July. 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 2023 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 28 August 2018. The Central government submitted that the subject 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, petitioner South Chemists and Distributors Association has said the draft rules are being pushed through in "serious violation" of the law, ignoring the health hazards caused by sales 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 12 December 2018 stayed the sale of drugs without licence by online pharmacies while hearing Ahmed's PIL (public interest litigation).

The petition also sought contempt action against the Central government for allegedly not taking action against defaulting e-pharmacies, some of which had earlier told the high court that they did not require a licence for the online sale of drugs and prescription medicines as they did not sell them, but were only delivering medications akin to food delivery apps.

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 misuse 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 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 that the online sale of medicines is in contravention of the provisions of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940 and other allied laws.

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