The Madras High Court Wednesday stayed until further orders a single judge's order banning online sale of medicines, saying patients would be affected if it was prohibited all of a sudden.
A division bench of Justice M Sathyanarayanan and Justice P Rajamanickam granted the interim stay, allowing miscellaneous petitions filed by a batch of traders involved in online sale of medicines.
It had on December 21 reserved orders on the plea.
Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana had in her December 17 order banned online sale of medicines till the Union Health Ministry and the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation notified the proposed Drugs and Cosmetics Amendment Rules, 2018 in the Gazette at the earliest by January 31.
The order was passed on a petition by the Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association (TNCDA).
Challenging it, petitioners, including Netmeds Marketplace, filed appeals along with the miscellaneous petitions, seeking a stay on the single judge's order.
The appellants submitted that the judge had failed to see that their online business model involves licences under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, and periodic forms and inspections by drug inspectors and statutory authorities were being carried out.
The central government itself, as the rule-making party, categorically held that door-to-door vending of drugs by shipping, mail, hand delivery etc., was not prohibited under the Act, they further submitted.
In its interim order, the bench said online sale was going on for quite some time.
"If all of a sudden, it is stopped till the amendments are notified, it would definitely create grave hardship, inconvenience and health issues to the concerned patients or persons, who order medicines through online platform," it said.
Sale through online platform was a developing concept and has been picking up, the judges noted, adding that handling the medicines required great care as it dealt with human lives.
It was also the categorical stand and assurance of the appellants that no irregularity or illegality would be allowed to take place while selling or dispensing medicines through online platform, they added.
The bench said the authorities constituted under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945 were competent to initiate appropriate action in the event of any violation of the provisions.
Hence, the court was of the considered view that the relevant portion of the impugned order of the single judge barring online sale of medicines till the draft rules were framed by the Centre required to be stayed till further orders, it said.
The bench adjourned the appeals for final hearing on January 24.
According to the TNCDA, though online shopping might be convenient to consumers, purchasing medicines through the medium could be risky as fake, expired, and unapproved drugs or unsafe products dangerous to patients might be sold.
The association had contended that medicines are not simple items of commerce but an essential component of patients' health, and drugs are to be provided under the direct supervision of a qualified pharmacist for patients' benefit.