India's e-commerce platforms experienced a surge in demand during the lockdown, but it has put online marketplaces at odds with brick and mortar stores. The Confederation of Indian Traders has been demanding action against Amazon and Flipkart over unfair trade practices, even calling them the modern version of the British East India Company. Although e-pharmacies have gained popularity by delivering medicines, a complaint by Indian chemists has triggered a regulatory probe against them.
The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has sent show-cause notices to major e-pharma platforms including Tata 1MG and Amazon. This action was prompted by a complaint from All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), alleging that e-pharmacies are violating drug laws. The industry body has also claimed that the rise of online drugstores, coincides with a sudden spike in the volume of duplicate medicines in Indian markets.
Apart from accusing the big corporations selling drugs of predatory pricing, the AIOCD also alleged that pregnancy termination kits, sedatives and even narcotics were accessible via e-pharmacies. The body claims that due to the risk that online platforms pose to brick and mortar drugstores, their 12 lakh family members and four crore people dependent on them, will also be affected. The organisation has complained about the same previously as well, and its president has met India's Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya.
On the other hand, e-pharma platforms and firms behind them aren't concern, since they reportedly see the notice just as a follow-up in a case which subjudice since 2018.
Apart from Tata, Reliance Industries has also entered the e-pharmacy space with its acquisition of Netmeds, which it has now expanded beyond the online space. The Mukesh Ambani-led firm has opened up retail stores for the digital pharmacy.
Amazon and Flipkart have been facing a pushback by retailers alongside chemists, and have also been slammed by India's Commerce Minister. They now face a challenge from India's ONDC, which is an open network for individual vendors to market products online independently.
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