New Delhi: The Delhi High Court Wednesday issued notices to the Centre and some e-pharmacies on a contempt petition alleging non-compliance of the court's order staying sale of drugs and prescription medicines by online pharmacies.
A bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice A J Bhambhani sought responses of the Ministry of Health, Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, Drugs Controller of Delhi and various private e-pharmacies on the contempt plea.
The court put up the contempt plea for May 9, when the main petition seeking a ban on "illegal" sale of drugs and medicines online is also listed.
Petitioner Zaheer Ahmed, represented through senior advocate Arvind Nigam and advocate Nakul Mehta, said in the contempt petition that despite the stay order by the high court on sale of medicines online, the government has willfully and deliberately not taken any action to stop it.
The counsel claimed that the e-pharmacies in willful disobedience of the order passed by the high court are selling medicines online.
"The respondents/contemnors by acting in willful disobedience of the order are not only lowering the majesty of court but also putting the public health at grave risk," the plea said.
The court had earlier stayed the sale of drugs and prescription medicines by online pharmacies, while hearing a PIL by Ahmed, seeking a ban on "illegal" sale of drugs and medicines online.
In his main petition, he said the online illegal sale of medicines would lead to a drug epidemic, drug abuse and misutilisation of habit forming and addictive drugs.
The high court was earlier informed by the Centre's counsel that rules are yet to be framed to regulate such entities and the government was in the process of framing rules.
The pharmacies had urged the court to remove the prohibition on online sale of drugs, saying they held licences and no medicines were sold illegally.
However, the court had refused to vacate the stay on sale of medicines online.
The petition has claimed that the Ministry of Health, Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation and an expert committee appointed by the drug consultative committee have already concluded that the online sale of medicines was in contravention of the provisions of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and the other allied laws.
Still lakhs of drugs are being sold on the Internet every day, it has said, adding that some of the drugs or medicines contain narcotic and psychotropic substance and some can cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria which is a threat not only to the patient but also to the humanity at large.
"It is a matter of public knowledge that e-commerce websites have been caught on numerous occasions of selling fake products. Unlike consumer items, drugs are extremely potent substances and consuming the wrong dose or fake medicine can have fatal consequences on the patient," it has said.
The petition has said that as of now there is no mechanism to control the sale of medicines on Internet and this puts health and lives of people at high risk and affects their right to a safe and healthy life under Article 21 of the Constitution.
"Online pharmacies are operating without a drug licence and cannot be regulated in the present regime. Unregulated and unlicensed sale of medicines will increase risk of spurious, misbranded and sub-standard drugs being sold," the plea has said.
It has sought direction to authorities to take action against the entities distributing, selling or exhibiting drugs on the Internet.
It has also sought direction for the constitution of an expert committee to find out the total number of websites which are distributing and selling the drugs in the country and to impose a ban on the online sale and purchase of medicines.