Close to 850,000 Indian pharmacies have commenced a pan India strike on Wednesday. Leaders of the strike say they haven't ruled out an indefinite protest and cite the "illegal pharmacy business by IT platform companies" as the reason for the strike.
JS Shinde, president of the All India Organisation of Chemist and Druggists, told the Financial Times that selling pills over the internet was illegal as well as posed a health threat, because Indian law only allowed pharmacists to sell medicine.
The strike assumes significance even as India's biggest online market places, Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal splurge millions this week to get as many Indians to shop online ahead of the major festival season of Diwali. Flipkart and Amazon don't sell medicines though condoms--a staple of pharmacy stores--are available via their marketplace.
This article has amended to reflect that Practo, previously mentioned in this story, doesn't facilitate online pharmacy.
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According to the Business Standard, losses worth Rs 260 crore are likely due to the pharmacy strike, which is led by the (AIOCD), which claims to be the representative of 750,000 chemists and druggists.
In May, Maharashtra's Food and Drug Administration filed a first information report against several of Snapdeal's top management for selling contraceptive drugs online. Snapdeal said it had withdrawn the pills. There are however several other companies such as MedsOnWay and 1 MG.
Online medical companies say their business model actual helps retail pharmacists and therefore a strike was illogical."Lakhs of chemists have made a wrong decision (of going on strike) based on the advice of a few people. The online model such as ours will only strengthen local chemists. The chain pharmacies are the real threats to their existence," Pankaj Gupta of Mera Medicare, told the Times of India. He added that there were no plans to stock medicines in godowns.
A separate report in the Times of India says that online vendors throw in discounts of 15% to 20% and these include "best-sellers" such as diabetes and hypertension, are the bestsellers. Tandon of 1mg.com was quoted in May as saying his app was downloaded 1.5 million million times, in a mere month since launch and served around 30-40,000 consumers in Delhi.
To be sure, India's health ministry has tasked a body to look into the provisions of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Rules, 1945 and check if online sale of medicines was responsible and in accordance with global practice.