A 'Million Mutinies Now' against online drug sales in India highlights China's push

India's mom-and-pop grocery stores have already beaten back most of the challenge from big-box retailers like Wal-Mart ($WMT) by limiting them to wholesale business and even efforts by leading domestic companies such as Reliance Industries have faltered.

So no one should underestimate the Indian Pharmacist Association (IPA) looking out for its members in the brick-and-mortar community as talk surfaces that the government favors some form of online drug sales as part of efforts to keep costs in check and allow newer business models to emerge.

The IPA however, joining an earlier effort by the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists, has written to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) urging that online pharmacies in India not be allowed in view of larger public interest.

"According to Pharmacy Act, no person other than a registered pharmacist shall dispense any medicine on the prescription of a medical practitioner and whoever contravenes these provisions shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months," Bhupendra Kumar, general secretary, IPA was quoted as saying by the Business Standard newspaper.

Earlier, the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists, which represents over 700,000 retail druggists in the country, had also opposed online sale of drugs and urged the government to put a curb on the same.

The moves in some way mimic Japan where similar trade groups have pushed hard to limit online drug sales, though cracks are appearing as the government also looks to new models to control costs.

But both countries stand at odds with the other top drug market in Asia, China, where bureaucrats are busy mapping a path that would likely see heavyweights JD.com and Alibaba ($BABA) gain pole positions in a market with restricted Internet access from outside.

However, it seems that maybe there could be some relaxation on the cards, going by a recent briefing to journalists on State Council, China's cabinet, deliberations on online retail.

"Both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have attached great importance to the development of cross-border e-commerce and issued a number of orders concerning it," said Zhong Shan, international trade representative and vice-minister of commerce, in a June 12 press briefing.

"From January to April this year, the sales volume of China's e-commerce, including cross-border e-commerce, reached 4.4 trillion yuan, an increase of 20%. More people are using cross-border e-commerce and the guideline is aiming to solve the prominent problems facing cross-border e-commerce and create a favorable environment for its development."

At stake for India though is that the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration, housed in the country's commercial capital of Mumbai, filed a first information report against e-commerce site Snapdeal.com's chief for online sale of prescription drugs in May, Business Standard newspaper reports.

That move emboldened other state regulators to look for any signs of similar companies, leading the neighboring state Gujarat Food and Drug Control Administration to crackdown on Prowisor Pharma, an online pharmacy last month, Business Standard said.

The DCGI however has not come down on either side yet, instead planning to study the existing online drug trade regulations that are practiced internationally, and come out with a specific set of rules on online drug retailing in India, Business Standard said.

- here's the story from Business Standard
- and China's State Council press briefing