SC declines Ramdev, Patanjali apology; expresses concern over FMCGs taking gullible consumers ‘up and down the garden path’

‘People, who pay good money for these products, finally end up suffering at the cost of their health… That is absolutely unacceptable,’ apex court says

Updated - April 10, 2024 05:08 pm IST

Published - April 10, 2024 12:34 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Yoga guru Ramdev (centre) arrives at the Supreme Court for hearing on the Patanjali misleading advertisements case, in New Delhi, on April 10, 2024

Yoga guru Ramdev (centre) arrives at the Supreme Court for hearing on the Patanjali misleading advertisements case, in New Delhi, on April 10, 2024 | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to accept a second round of apologies from self-styled yoga guru Baba Ramdev, Patanjali Ayurved Limited, and its managing director Acharya Balkrishna in a contempt case, flagging concern about Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies playing with the health of the gullible public while government fails to crack the whip.

“The victim is always the public. We are concerned with all those FMCG companies who are taking their consumers and clients up and down the garden path, showing them very rosy pictures about what their products can do for them. People who pay good money for these products finally end up suffering at the cost of their health… That is absolutely unacceptable,” Justice Hima Kohli observed.

Editorial | Dangerous game: On Patanjali Ayurved’s claims

The Bench, also comprising Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah, said the objectionable and misleading advertisements by Patanjali Ayurved to cure everything from diabetes and obesity to liver dysfunction, and even COVID-19 during the months of the pandemic, were “deliberate and wilful violations” of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act of 1954 and its Rules.

The apex court had initiated contempt proceedings against Patanjali Ayurved and Mr. Balkrishna on February 27 for violating an undertaking given to it in November 2023 that they would refrain from advertising “cures” in violation of the 1954 Act. On November 21, the apex court had directed the company to not make any “casual statements” to the print or electronic media about the efficacy of their medicinal products or indulge in any disparaging statements about other disciplines of medicine, including allopathy. However, the very next day, Mr. Ramdev had held a press conference.

“We are thinking, why we should not treat your apology with the same disdain in which you treated the undertaking given to this court?” Justice Kohli addressed senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the proposed contemnors.

Justice Amanullah remarked the apology came from the trio only after “the writing was plain on the wall”.

Justice Kohli said their conduct, when faced with contempt action, changed from hubris to abject surrender when they found themselves cornered.

In its order, the court recorded that the contemnors, Mr. Ramdev and Mr. Balkrishna, had tried to “wriggle out” of personally appearing in the apex court.

Justice Amanullah said it was conduct like this that made a mockery of the Supreme Court, with the public claiming that judges were sitting in an ivory tower.

The court made it clear that it would direct action against every person or authority who had broken the law, without mercy.

“Why should we show mercy when the public is cheated by medicines touted as a cure?” Justice Kohli asked. The court listed the contempt case for April 16.

The hearing saw the court turn its ire on the Uttarakhand State Licensing Authority for choosing to turn a blind eye to the misleading advertisments.

“You twiddled your thumbs… Why should we not come down like a ton of bricks on your officers? They have been filibustering… You were in deep slumber from 2018, when the first complaint came about their products, to 2024,” Justice Kohli told a senior official from the Uttarakhand State Licensing Authority who was present in the courtroom.

The official said he would file an First Information Report (FIR) now. Justice Amanullah, in a sarcastic tone, said he need not bother after so many years.

“Now you have woken up to a statute which is the law of the land?” Justice Kohli asked the State government.

The court said the assurances of the State government to move against Patanjali under the 1954 Act, and the apology of the three proposed contemnors were “not worth the paper they were written on”.

The court directed the State Licensing Authority officers-in-charge, the present one and his predecessor, to file detailed affidavits on why action had not been taken against Patanjali Ayurved under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act.

It further directed all the officers who had served as District Ayurvedic and Unani Officers, Haridwar, from the period between 2018 to 2024, to file affidavits explaining their inaction against Patanjali Ayurved under the law. The court has listed this part of the case on April 23.

In the previous hearing on April 2, the court had questioned the government for “shutting its eyes” while Patanjali Ayurved “tom-tommed” its wares as panacea during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its affidavit, the Centre responded that the Interdisciplinary Technical Review Committee for COVID-19 had raised “ethical concerns”, and recommended in its report in December 2020 that Patanjali Ayurved’s ‘Coronil’ “may be used as a supporting measure for COVID-19 without claiming cure”.

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