NEW DELHI: The government is working on a policy governing the sale of medicines online by startups such as 1mg.com, Bookmeds, mChemist, Medidart, Medlife, Medstar, Netmeds, Pharmeasy and Zigy.com that have disrupted the brick and mortar model.
This comes as chemists plan a one-day shutdown of their shops later this month in protest against what they allege is the illegal online sales of drugs by such companies.
NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant wrote to health secretary CK Mishra in October seeking comments from the health ministry on the broad contours of a policy that will ensure a level playing field for e-pharmacies vis-�-vis traditional retailers.
“Quality, cost and access are critical for ensuring timely provision of medicines for all,” Kant said in the October 13 letter that ET has seen. “E-pharmacies can help facilitate access to medicines in a timely manner, even in underserved areas. Hence, developing the right e-pharmacy policy, as well as ensuring a level playing field with brick and mortar pharmacies is critical.” Kant didn’t comment on the note.
The government believes epharmacies can be a game changer in delivering affordable medicines to all by increasing competition and helping to deliver drugs in remote areas.
ndia’s Drugs and Cosmetics Act does not differentiate between medicines sold online or offline, sparking anger among those who run brick and mortar stores that such transactions are allowed. The All India Organisation of Chemists & Druggists has announced a nationwide strike on November 23 “to protect the health of the general public as well as the interest of our 8 lakh chemists and 80 lakh workers and their families,” the grouping’s president JS Shinde was cited as saying by PTI last week. ..
The mainstream brick and mortar retail trade has stoutly resisted ecommerce, prompting the government to lay down strict rules governing the sector that some online companies feel are too restrictive.
The e-pharmacy policy is aimed at establishing rules and regulations, such as those pertaining to the upload of prescriptions. E-pharmacies now sell medicines based on scanned prescriptions. NITI Aayog feels “that in case such a policy is adopted, it would be very onerous and unfair to e-pharmacies and would make the online model unviable.”
NITI Aayog has already begun discussions with key stakeholders to frame a robust policy to facilitate online access to quality medicines in a cost-effective and timely manner. India has about 50 e-pharmacy startups that have raised $92.6 million in funding so far.
The government is of the view that clear laws to regulate epharmacies will enable a friendly environment for existing online retailers and may also encourage more entrepreneurs to enter the space, a move that would give a push to the overall ecommerce market in India, pegged at about $20 billion.