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Will e-pharmacy regulation see the light of day?

The government does not want to antagonise hundreds of thousands of brick and mortar or offline pharmacy store owners

November 10, 2019 / 11:30 AM IST
Representative image

Representative image

A group of ministers led by Union Minister Rajnath Singh met on October 30 to discuss and finalise a framework to regulate e-pharmacies in the country.

Other ministers in the meeting were Minister of Health and Family Welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal and Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

The government had released draft rules on sale of drugs by e-pharmacies with an aim to regulate online sale of medicines across India in September 2018.

The draft rules make registration of e-pharmacies mandatory and bars them from selling drugs without valid prescriptions. E-pharmacies will have to maintain details of both patients and practitioners to avert misuse.

The government has sought comments from various stakeholders on the draft.

Close

The Economic Times had reported that so far the government had received over 7,000 representations in favour of the draft document and 350 plus comments against the draft rules.

The Centre wanted to bring the e-pharmacy regulation within 100 days of it winning the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The draft proposals secured the approval of the Drugs Consultative Committee and the Drugs and Technical Advisory Board. However, government's delay in finalising the e-pharmacy regulation is becoming an issue for the e-pharmacy industry.

Why is there a delay in regulating e-pharmacies?

The government does not want to antagonise hundreds of thousands of brick and mortar or offline pharmacy store owners.

Indian retail pharmacy is estimated to be worth $18 billion, and is expected to reach a size of $50 billion by 2025, according to data from Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion.

E-pharmacies now constitutes around 3 percent of Indian pharmaceutical market. But, they are growing rapidly. There are around 282 e-pharmacy start-ups in India, including big ones like Netmeds, 1mg, Medlife, Pharmeasy, Sasta Sundar and Myrameds, according to data from start-up tracker Tracxn.

The total number of retail pharmacies in India are estimated to be 8.5 lakh. These small entrepreneurs are worried about their livelihood. In addition to pharmacy retailers, there is huge network of traders including wholesalers, distributors and stockists, who too are not happy.

The delay in finalising the e-pharmacy regulation is also causing headache for the e-pharmacy industry, as they currently operate in a regulatory grey area leading to conflicting court orders.

In December 2018, the Delhi high court ordered all online pharmacies in the country to shut. The same month, the Madras High Court overturned the ban, after a group of e-pharmacy companies filed an appeal.

Way forward

With the group of ministers now meeting to discuss the e-pharmacy regulation, there could be some momentum on finalising the regulatory framework. It may be a politically sensitive issue, but the government cannot afford to let e-pharmacies operate in grey area of regulation, when it is related to public health.
Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: Nov 10, 2019 11:30 am
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