-Report by Harshit Gupta
In the case of S. Athilakshmi v. The State of Rep. by the Drugs Inspector reported on 15-03-2023 in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. This is a case where criminal proceedings were initiated by the state against a medical practitioner for selling medicines within her house.
S. Athilakshmi (hereinafter Appellant) is a registered medical practitioner working as an Associate Professor and the Head of the Dermatology Department, in the Govt. Omandurar Medical College, Chennai. The appellant was carrying medical practice in her private capacity at premises which is No. 87 Red Hills Road(North), Villivakkam Chennai. She meets and examines her patients. An inspector on 16.03.2016, inspected the aforesaid place and found 18 medicines at the said place. He also found some bills. He obtained the sanction from the office of the Director of Drugs Control, Tamil Nadu, Chennai-06, on 22.09.2016 which was given to him on 23.01.2018. Thereafter he initiated criminal proceedings before the court of X Metropolitan Magistrate, Egmore to hold liable her under section 18(c) punishable with section 27(b)(ii) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. Aggrieved by the proceedings, she applied section 482 of CrPC, 1973 before the High Court of Madras for quashing Criminal proceedings against her. Her petition was dismissed by the LD. Single Judge on 21.06.2022. Aggrieved by this, she filed an SLP(Special Leave Petition) in the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
It was contented by the appellant that she is a registered medical practitioner in dermatology and has an M.D. (DVL) degree in this specialization. She is protected by the law if she was practicing medicines while she was not on her official duty. She has produced the required bills and necessary documents asked by the court to support her side.
The respondent contended that she had stocked the medicines in her capacity. Therefore, the criminal proceedings shall remain to be continued.
This case was decided by a two-judge bench, and they set aside the impugned order of the High Court of Madras. The judgment was delivered by Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia as the Court granted the leave and held that since she is a registered medical practitioner and thus protected by law to practice medicines independently. The Court also emphasized the word ‘stocked’ in section 18(c). The Court held that most of the drugs were lotions and ointments in small quantities therefore they can not fall under the ambit of ‘stocked.’ The court said that a small number of drugs can be found in the room or office of a registered medical practitioner. The court also emphasized the timeline of incidents that occurred in this case. “The search was carried out on 16.03.2016 and sanction was sought on 22.09.2016 and it was granted on 23.01.2018” this is the whole timeline from search to granting sanction. The court observed that there is a very wide difference in time. And there is no explanation for this too. The court relied on the case “Hasmukhlal D. Vohra and Anr. V. State of Tamil Nadu.” In this case, criminal proceedings were quashed against the petitioner considering the delay in the proceedings, and the court in his judgment para 25 said that the respondent i.e., the State of Tamil Nadu, has not explained the extraordinary delay of more than four years between the initial site inspection, the show cause notice, and the complaint. This delay prompted Court to infer some sinister motive behind initiating the criminal proceedings. This Court in the case of “Manshukhlal Vithaldas Chauhan v. State of Gujarat” in this case, the court highlighted the importance of prior sanction. In the case of “Mohd. Shabir V. State of Maharashtra” in this case, the court observed that possession simpliciter would not itself be an offense, but the prosecution had to prove the essential under section 27 which was that even a stock of medicine was for sale. By observing that sanctioning authority had not examined at all whether a practicing doctor could be prosecuted under the facts of the case, the Court quashed the Criminal proceedings against the appellant.
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