Entire country is taken for a ride: SC contempt notice to Patanjali on ads Company News

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a contempt notice to Patanjali Ayurved and its managing director Acharya Balakrishna for flouting earlier orders and continuing to propagate false and misleading claims about curing diseases with the company’s products. While the court banned Patanjali advertisements with misleading claims, it came down heavily on the Central government saying it was “sitting with eyes closed” as the entire country was “taken for a ride”.

“How can you claim permanent relief,” the court asked while reprimanding Patanjali Ayurved on its advertisements. In November 2023, the company had told the court that no such claims would be made in its advertisements in future.

The Bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah have temporarily restrained Patanjali Ayurved from advertising or branding its products which are meant to address the diseases/disorders specified in the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954. The company has been asked to reply. in three weeks why action should not be taken against it.

The court also asked the Center to file an affidavit on steps it has taken under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954 with reference to the advertisements of Patanjali. “The entire country is taken for a ride! You wait for two years when the Act says this (misleading advertisements) is prohibited,” Justice Amanullah told Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, who represented the Centre.

While Nataraj agreed that misleading advertisements cannot be accepted, he said that it was up to the states to take action under the Act.

The court was hearing a petition filed by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) alleging that the ‘yoga guru and his company’ had started a ‘smear campaign’ against the Covid19 vaccination drive and modern medicine. On Tuesday, the court told the company that no statement should be made against any system of medicine.

When the case was taken up in the morning, Justice Amanullah came down heavily on Patanjali. “You had the courage and guts to come up with this advertisement after the order of this court! And then you come up with this advertisement. Permanent relief, what do you mean by permanent relief? Is it a cure?…We are going to pass a very, very strict order. You are tempting the court,” the judge said.

In the afternoon, Senior Advocate PS Patwalia for IMA said Ramdev had held a press conference after the court’s last hearing on November 21, 2023, saying remedies for blood pressure were ”lies spread by allopathy”.

“He held a press conference the very next day after the last order,” Patwalia informed the court.

Justice Amanullah said that there was a prima facie flouting of the Supreme Court order and notices should be issued to Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balakrishna whose pictures were shown in the advertisements.

“So far, Baba Ramdev is concerned, he is a sanyasi,” Senior Advocate Vipin Sanghi for Patanjali said.

“We are not bothered by that, by who he is…there is a prima facie flouting,” Justice Amanullah said. Patwalia quipped in saying Sanghi’s statement was ”outrageous”.

“They were aware of the order and prima facie they are flouting it,” Justice Kohli said.

The bench was proposing a complete ban on advertisements. However, Sanghi said that the company manufactures other products such as toothpaste, so a complete ban would affect its commercial operations. After that, the court specified that the advertisement ban would apply to products related to diseases specified under the Act.

IMA had sought court intervention to direct the Centre, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), and the CCPA (Central Consumer Protection Authority of India) to take action against such advertisements and campaigns to promote the ayush system by disparaging the allopathic system.

The Supreme Court Bench led by CJI Ramana in August 2022 had issued notice to parties in the case, including Patanjali Ayurved. A year later, on November 21, 2023, the court issued a stern warning of imposing a financial penalty of Rs 1 crore in case such advertisements continued.

In an exchange filing on Tuesday evening, Patanjali Foods said: “The observations do not have any bearing on the regular business operations or the financial performance of Patanjali Foods Limited.”

“In the Patanjali case, the evidence is stacked up against the company. One must remember, it is not only advertisement but also on record comments by the officials on miraculous cures and on allopathy versus ayurveda issue,” said Vidhan Vyas, founder, Vyas Legal.

First Published: Feb 27 2024 | 9:54 pm ist

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