E-commerce giant Amazon India is foraying into the country’s online pharmacy space with plans to pilot offerings of medicines in Bengaluru. The move is being met with opposition from a body of brick and mortar chemists, which has written to the company’s global CEO calling the move “illegal”.
“As a part of our commitment to fulfill the needs of customers, we are launching Amazon Pharmacy in Bangalore allowing customers to order prescription based medication in addition to over-the-counter medicines, basic health devices and Ayurveda medication from certified sellers,” stated an Amazon spokesperson, adding, “This is particularly relevant in present times as it will help customers meet their essential needs while staying safe at home.”
According to India’s drug regulations, retailers require a licence to dispense medicines from the state in which they are being sold, said two senior government officials. As Amazon operates as a marketplace for various vendors and is not allowed to own inventory, it may be exempt from these requirements. Instead, the vendors on its platform would require such a licence, said experts.
“Every seller on the marketplace would be required to have a retail licence under India’s regulations for drugs and cosmetics. There is nothing in the law that requires a marketplace to have a licence to facilitate the sale,” said Murali Neelakantan, former global general counsel of Cipla and Glenmark Pharmaceuticals.
In a four-page letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Friday, All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) president JS Shinde and general secretary Rajiv Singhal alleged that the move was illegal. While the government has allowed doorstep delivery of medicines during the Covid-19 pandemic, prescriptions have to be received by hand or by the email of an individual licence holder, they argued. “We also have a full dossier ready on this subject and entering this space can bring on legal implications which can bring disrepute to Amazon’s name,” said the letter.
It is unclear how long Amazon will pilot its online pharmacy in Bengaluru and how many sellers it has tied up with for this exercise. Specific questions sent to Amazon India on which other states it plans to expand the pilot to and the model of the online pharmacy’s operations did not elicit a reply.
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