ESMA may be invoked against striking chemists

The state government told Bombay High Court (HC) Thursday it might invoke Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against chemists closing shops after 6 pm to protest the rule to employ pharmacists round-the-clock to dispense medicines.

However, a bench headed by chief justice Mohit Shah asked the state to sympathetically consider demands of chemists before taking such a drastic step.

HC was hearing a PIL by lawyer Datta Mane alleging inconvenience to people due to the decision of chemists. He said day-night shops too were operating till 6 pm and there were no medicines available in emergencies.

After the state government and Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) sought time to file replies, HC adjourned the matter for two weeks.

Retail Drug Chemists Association (RDCA) submitted FDA had made it mandatory for chemist shops to employ pharmacists, which, it said, was not feasible.

If chemists kept shops open after 6 pm, they would have to hire another pharmacist for the second shift and pay his salary as well, which may be difficult, RDCA said.

Pharmacists worked for eight hours a day and keeping shops open after 6 pm without a pharmacist ran the risk of losing licence, the association contended. According to FDA Act, a pharmacist should be present while dispensing medicines over the counter to patients.

Pharmacists have also demanded higher salaries, RDCA said.

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