Supreme Court rejects Ramdev, Balakrishna’s new apology over misleading ads

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to accept an unconditional apology offered by yoga guru and entrepreneur Ramdev and Patanjali Ayurved managing director Acharya Balkrishna facing contempt action for violating an undertaking given to the court, saying the two were apologising because they had been “caught on the wrong foot” and “their back was against the wall”.

Yoga guru and entrepreneur Ramdev appears before the Supreme Court for the hearing in the misleading advertisement case filed against the Patanjali Ayurveda in New Delhi on Wednesday. ( (ANI)

“We decline to accept or condone it. We consider it a wilful and deliberate violation of the order and the breach of the undertaking…,” a bench of justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said.

“It is not about the contemnors alone but a larger message should go out to the public at large that an undertaking given to the court, which is to be valued and accepted, and you are violating the law with blatant impunity,” the bench told senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Balbir Singh who appeared for the two contemnors.

The bench also pulled up the Uttarakhand state licensing authority for sitting on complaints against Patanjali and ordered all district ayurvedic and unani officials from 2018 to file affidavits explaining inaction on their part. “We are appalled to note that except for pushing the files, the State Licensing Authority did nothing and was in deep slumber over the issue for four to five years,” the court said.

The bench posted the matter for further consideration on April 16.

Ramdev and Balkrishna face contempt for disobeying court orders that prohibited Patanjali Ayurved from running misleading advertisements on health cures. On November 21, 2023, the top court recorded an undertaking by the company to stop running any misleading advertisements and issuing disparaging statements against modern or any other form of medicine. However, the Indian Medical Association, which had approached the Supreme Court, came back to the bench with a video clip of a press conference held by Ramdev merely a day after Patanjali’s undertaking in court on November 21.

As Ramdev and Balkrishna appeared before the bench again on Wednesday, the bench underscored that it did not want to be so generous to them. “The apologies that are on record are on paper. We think that having been caught on the wrong foot and noticing that their back is actually against the wall and having gone to town saying all kinds of things on the very next day of the order passed where your counsel had given undertaking, we don’t accept this affidavit,” it said.

The court further observed that an apology given to the court cannot be taken lightly as there is a larger issue concerning public health. “We are also concerned about the FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods) who are taking the consumers up the garden path and making people buy their products who end up bearing adverse consequences. There are major fault lines in the system and this fault line is not at the cost of your company but the health of the public.”

Senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Balbir Singh told the court that the contemnors are willing to give a public apology if the court is not satisfied with their affidavits.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta who appeared for the Centre told the court that fresh affidavits were filed after he advised the lawyers for the contemnors to withdraw their earlier apology and express unconditional remorse.

The court also pulled up the Uttarakhand government for its silence on the complaints received against Patanjali under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectional Advertisements) Act 1954, Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Rules 1955, and Drugs

and Cosmetics Rules 1945. The bench cited an affidavit filed by Mithilesh Kumar, joint director of the licensing authority, noting that it was “appalled” to know that the file against Patanjali kept on getting “pushed” from one authority to another since 2019 with an attempt to delay the matter without registering criminal case, as required under the 1954 Act.

The bench refrained from acting against the official who filed the affidavit, holding that all his predecessors were equally complicit. “Instead of taking action, the licensing authority informed the union government that a warning has been issued to Divya Pharmacy and further action will be taken after the hearing in the Supreme Court.”

The bench said, “The predecessor to the present deponent (Mithilesh Kumar) shall file an affidavit explaining his inaction on his part during his tenure in office. All district ayurvedic and Unani officials from 2018 till date will also file affidavits explaining inaction on their part.” The court granted them two weeks to file the response.

Section 3 of the 1954 Act prohibits any advertisement that claims diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of some specific diseases. The prohibited list includes diabetes, glaucoma, blood pressure, leucoderma and lupus that are mentioned in the Patanjali advertisement as well. Section 7 carries a penalty clause which makes any violation under the Act punishable with imprisonment that may extend to six months or fine for the first conviction and for subsequent conviction, the punishment could extend to one year or fine.

Patanjali’s advertisements even fall foul of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Rules, 1955. Rule 6 names asthma as one of the diseases on which advertisement of drugs for treatment is prohibited.

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Pooja Gupta

CA Pooja Gupta (CA, ISA, having 15 years of experience. Educator and Digital Creator

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CA Pooja Gupta (CA, ISA, having 15 years of experience. Educator and Digital Creator

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