Several pharmacies remained closed on Friday as chemists observed a nationwide strike to protest against the Centre’s move to regularise online sale of medicines, reported PTI. The All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists said e-pharmacies pose a threat to their business and could even lead to drug abuse.

“The AIOCD has already observed two bharat bandhs earlier,” Sandeep Nangia, the organising secretary of AIOCD and the president of the Retail Distributors Chemists Association, told PTI. “If the appeal does not get a positive response from the government, we will not have any other option than to call for a nationwide indefinite agitation.”

The strike got full support in Punjab and Bihar while the Maharashtra state medical education department asked the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that 24x7 medical shops and pharmacies inside hospitals remain open on Friday. “We are participating in the nationwide protest on September 28 on the issue of e-pharmacies,” Maharashtra Registered Pharmacist Association President Kailash Tandale told Asian Age. “But, we have also decided to keep a few shops open in various areas so that the strike does not inconvenience the common people.”

In Gujarat, 25,000 chemists joined the protest, The Times of India reported.

The protesting chemists alleged that e-pharmacies, which often offer heavy discounts, encourage improper use of medicines and the sale of spurious drugs. “The government should crack down any online sale of medicines as it raises the risk of drug abuse,” said AIOCD General Secretary Rajiv Singhal. “At present, online pharmacy business is going illegally and the government is not taking any action against it, hence, we have no alternative than to go on a strike to protect health of general public.”

On Thursday, Puducherry administration invoked Section 144 (1) of the Criminal Prodcedure Code to restrict owners of medical shops or pharmacies from supporting the protest, The Hindu reported.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare published a set of draft rules on the sale of drugs by e-pharmacies to regulate the online medicines market. Online pharmacies will have to register with the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, according to the draft rules, and obtain a trade licence to exhibit, stock and sell drugs. They are also banned from selling tranquilisers, narcotics and psychotropic drugs, as per the draft rules.

Currently, the e-pharma industry is less than 0.5% of the retail pharmacy landscape, but it is growing at an annual rate of over 100%.