Retailers of drugs and pharmaceuticals across the country shut shop today in protest against the threat posed by the growing number of online drug sellers, called `e-pharmacies', and threatened to close indefinitely if the central government did not shut down e-pharmacies.
As many as 850,000 chemists across the country are reported to have closed shop in support of the nationwide protest, leaving patients waiting in long queues at pharmacies that opted to remain open.
Medical shops attached to hospitals as well as 24-hour pharmacies did not join in the one-day strike.
Brick-and-mortar pharmacies see online pharmacies - a relatively new phenomenon in India - as a threat mainly because they charge less for similar medicines and even give discounts, which most mom-and-pop stores avoid.
IMS Health estimates the market for drugs and pharmaceuticals to be worth about $13 billion.
Companies including Zigy and Sequoia Capital-backed 1mg have set up e-pharmacies over the past couple of years. Healthcare company Apollo Hospitals Enterprise plans to start online sales if the government regulates the business.
JS Shinde, president of the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists, which called the protest, said the retailers' trade group will consider an indefinite strike if the government does not stop online drug sales within two months.
The government on Tuesday made a last-minute attempt to get pharmacies to stay open by issuing a warning.
The health ministry now says it is studying several representations on how the online pharmacy business should be regulated.