Patanjali Misleading Ads Case: Supreme Court Rebukes Government For Halting Drug Advertisement Rule

The court says it's not gunning for a particular company, but all those FMCG companies that publish misleading advertisements.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>A&nbsp;Patanjali store. (Source: Company website)</p></div>
A Patanjali store. (Source: Company website)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday questioned the Union government's decision to put on hold Rule 170 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act while hearing a case on Patanjali's misleading advertisements. Rule 170 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act prohibits the promotion of AYUSH drugs without the approval of state licencing authorities.

Terming it a colourable and arbitrary exercise, the court questioned whether the central government is more concerned with the revenue that is coming in than what is being published in public.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatagi, appearing for Patanjali Ayurved's Ramdev and Managing Director Acharya Balkrishna, informed the court that they have filed an apology for their actions in 67 newspapers.

However, a bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah questioned whether the size of these apologies was the same as that of its misleading advertisements, and it directed them to file a proper affidavit and place it on record before the court within the next two days. The court clarified that it is not gunning for a particular company but all those FMCG companies that affect the general public through their misleading ads.

The court noted that this is a very serious issue and that a lot of fast-moving consumer goods companies have been publishing misleading ads and taking the general public for a ride. The court said that these companies specifically target new-born babies, school-going children and senior citizens.

The bench said it is necessary to implead the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and the licencing authorities of all states and Union territories to examine steps taken to prevent the abuse of the statutes in question.

Calling out the Indian Medical Association, the court said that even though its is the petitioner in this case, it should also put its house in order as there have been several complaints against it for unethical practices.

It was brought to light that there have been allegations of doctors abusing their position by suggesting unnecessary or extremely costly medications and/or treatments.

The case will now be heard on April 30.

The court was hearing a lawsuit filed by the IMA, which argued that Ramdev was running an adversarial campaign against the Covid-19 vaccines and contemporary medical practices. The case began in November last year when the apex court issued a stern warning to Ramdev and his multinational conglomerate for downplaying the effects of modern medicine.

Some of Patanjali's commercials tout how its medicines can cure a number of illnesses, while simultaneously disparaging allopathic and modern medicine. The court had earlier said that it would issue a hefty penalty for all those misleading advertisements that promise to cure diseases, such as asthma and obesity.

At that time, Patanjali told the court that it would make sure that no casual statements claiming medicinal efficacy against any system of medicine would be released to the media in any form.

However, a day after the court's stern remarks, Patanjali came out with a media statement saying that it was not making any "false advertisements or propaganda" regarding its products and that it would not object if the top court were to impose a fine or "even give us a death sentence" if found making misleading claims.

This prompted the apex court to serve a contempt notice to Balkrishna for publicly disobeying its orders as the company had continued to run its false ads even after giving an undertaking. When the firm failed to respond to the court's notice, the court issued a contempt notice to Ramdev as well and ordered his personal presence in court.

After facing severe criticism from the court for failing to obey the court's directives, Patanjali filed an apology last month, stating that its intention was only to exhort the citizens of this country to lead a healthier life by using its products.

During the last hearing, the court said that Patanjali had been doing good work but it cannot criticise another system of medical treatment and should rather pay attention to their own work. As a result, Ramdev and Balkrishna assured the court that they accept that they have committed a mistake and would make sure that such actions will not be repeated. Justice Hima Kohli acknowledged Balkrishna and Ramdev's commitment to correcting their behaviour and gave them a week to show improvement.

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