Customers at a pharmacy in Raghunath Market in Jammu. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

As Courts Ban Online Sale Of Medicines, What Will Be The Impact On Consumers?

In successive weeks, the Madras and Delhi High Courts have banned the online sale of medicines, until the Centre notifies rules, throwing e-pharmacies into uncertainty. But where does that leave consumers?

DG Shah, secretary general of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, pointed to the necessity for user data protection, which according to him, is a big challenge for online pharmacies.

“Compiling data in offline stores is a cumbersome process but in an online model, that process becomes much easier,” Shah said in an interview with BloombergQuint. “However, ensuring the security of user data is of paramount importance.”

E-pharmacy players must ensure the authenticity of prescriptions uploaded and that the right drugs are sold to customers.
DG Shah, Secretary General, Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance

And then there are the discounts offered by online players, that has drawn consumers to them.

There is a margin of around 30 percent between the wholesaler and retailer, said Shah, which the manufacturer provides. “Out of this 30 percent, e-pharmacies are willing to part with 15 percent and offer a discount.” This, he said, would hurt offline payers.

KK Selvan, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association, said that online pharmacies don’t pose any threat to offline stores. He said that chemists will be the biggest online player in India once the government formulates rules. “Currently, India does not have a law governing online pharmacies, either for uploading prescriptions or selling medicines.”

We have to welcome modernisation but we shouldn’t violate any laws.
KK Selven, General Secretary Of Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association

But online players say they are compliant with existing laws like the IT Act and Drugs and Cosmetics Act, seeking clarity from the government. “The pharma market is big enough for both online and offline players to sustain,” said Dharmil Sheth, co-founder of PharmEasy. Uncertainty, he said, is the biggest fear factor.

We are less than a percent of the industry. I don’t think we are snatching away the business. It’s more fear of the unknown. 
Dharmil Sheth, Co-Founder of PharmEasy

Watch the discussion here: