Dangerous game: On Patanjali Ayurved’s claims

Commercial interest should not be allowed to override public health and safety 

April 04, 2024 12:10 am | Updated 09:22 am IST

In February this year, the Supreme Court of India issued a contempt notice against Patanjali Ayurved for publishing misleading advertisements that were in direct violation of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 and its Rules despite the company’s assurance to the Court in November last year that it would not do so. On Tuesday, the apex court turned up the heat by threatening Patanjali’s co-founder Baba Ramdev with perjury proceedings in addition to contempt. The two-member Bench again came down heavily on the government, this time for turning a blind eye when the company was promoting its products as a panacea during the COVID-19 pandemic, in blatant violation of the Act. While the Court has asked the government to file an affidavit to dispel the impression that it was complicit, the fact is that the government did almost nothing to inform the people that Coronil was not a “cure” for COVID-19 — as claimed by the company in June 2020 — but only a “supporting measure in COVID-19”. In February 2021, the presence of Harsh Vardhan, then Union Health Minister, along with Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, at a press conference organised by Patanjali to promote Coronil, made the company’s claims sound very credible.

Emboldened by the absence of penal action by the courts or the government for the false claim that Coronil could cure COVID-19, the company went on an advertisement spree in 2022 claiming that its products could cure many non-communicable diseases and conditions. The advertisements also denigrated and derided evidence-based medicine (allopathy). On November 21, 2023 the Court warned the company not to advertise permanent cures and threatened to impose a penalty of ₹1 crore on every product for which such claims were made. But, in absolute defiance, the company held a press conference the next day to defend its products. In December last year and January 2024, cocking a snook at the Court, the company again issued newspaper advertisements, compelling the Court to issue a contempt notice in February. It is highly unlikely that the company could have continued to act this way in the absence of at least tacit support from the government at the Centre and in Uttarakhand, where the company is based. Independent of the Court, the absence of any restraining order by the government to stop the company from freely advertising highly misleading claims only strengthens the suspicion. In matters related to health and medicine, the government playing favouritism can be extremely dangerous and harmful. Allowing commercial interests to override public health and safety can be perilous.

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