One should not need a microscope to see an apology, SC tells Patanjali | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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One should not need a microscope to see an apology, SC tells Patanjali

Apr 24, 2024 12:52 AM IST

Patanjali assured the court that it would issue another, more prominently displayed apology in the media within a week.

New Delhi The Supreme Court on Tuesday questioned yoga guru and entrepreneur Ramdev and Patanjali’s managing director Balkrishna on the size and visibility of an apology issued by Patanjali for previous misleading advertisements, even as it broadened its judicial scrutiny into deceptive advertisements to include “alleged unethical practices” among doctors practising modern medicine.

Yoga guru Ramdev at the Supreme Court for a hearing on the Patanjali misleading advertisements case on Tuesday.(PTI)
Yoga guru Ramdev at the Supreme Court for a hearing on the Patanjali misleading advertisements case on Tuesday.(PTI)

“Is the apology the same size as your advertisements? When you issue an apology, it does not mean that we have to see it by a microscope...It does not have to only be in papers but is meant to be read...somebody in the dock has to come clean,” a bench of justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah remarked, highlighting the possible discrepancy in the scale between Patanjali’s widespread misleading advertisements and their comparatively inconspicuous apology published in newspapers.

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Seeking to wriggle out of the contempt charge for disobeying previous court orders, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi and Balbir Singh, appearing for Ramdev and Balkrishna, assured the court that Patanjali would issue another, more prominently displayed apology in the media within a week.

Also Read | Patanjali ads case: Supreme Court calls out IMA over 'unethical conduct', says put 'house in order'

Rohatgi also informed the bench that Patanjali has issued an apology in 67 publications, which, along with a fresh apology to be printed within a week, will be presented to the bench before the next hearing on April 30.

Responding, the bench said: “Cut the actual newspaper clippings and keep them handy. For you to photocopy by enlarging, it may not impress us. We want to see the actual size of the ad.”

The public apology issued by Patanjali in various publications between April 22 and 23 stated: “We tender our heartfelt apology for the mistakes committed in publishing ads and holding press conferences despite the assurances by our counsel. We are committed not to repeat this mistake.”

During the hearing, the bench also emphasised that its actions were not targeted solely at Ramdev and his enterprise, Patanjali, but were motivated by broader concerns for public welfare.

Also Read | Patanjali case: SC expands scrutiny of misleading ads to include allopathic practices

“We must clarify that we aren’t here to gun for a particular company or authority. Our endeavour is to act in the public interest against FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods) and drug companies that have been misleading the public. It’s a part of the process of the rule of law,” it said.

The court decided to widen the scope of the matter to encompass the practitioners of modern medicine -- it is often referred to as allopathy in India -- who are accused of prescribing unnecessary and expensive medicines. The court highlighted allegations that some allopathic practitioners may be influenced more by pharmaceutical affiliations than by patient welfare.

Putting the Indian Medical Association (IMA) in the dock, the bench asked the association to bring on record the actions taken by it on the complaints received against doctors prescribing expensive and unnecessary medicines in lieu of valuable considerations. IMA is the complainant in the case against Patanjali, and has demanded contempt action against Ramdev and Balkrishna for violating the court’s earlier directives on misleading advertisements and an undertaking given by Patanjali.

“We are of the opinion that the petitioner association also needs to put its house in order. There are several complaints of the alleged unethical activities of the members of the association regarding recommending highly expensive medicines and extraneous medicines, besides prescribing line of treatment for valuable considerations,” the bench said in its order, directing senior counsel PS Patwalia, representing IMA, to provide necessary information on actions taken by it against its members.

While making the National Medical Commission (NMC) also a party in the case, the bench told IMA: “While petitioners are pointing fingers at respondents, four fingers are pointing at them. If that’s happening, why should we not turn the beam at you? We can’t let the public be taken for a ride. There are children and babies involved. Your doctors also endorse medicines in the allopathic field...You have to tell us what you have done as an in-house exercise to prevent abuse. They are your members. You have to have an effective control.”

During the hearing, the top court also made the Union ministries of information & technology and consumer affairs, besides drug commissioners of all states and Union territories (UTs) parties to the matter, expressing concerns about the ethical standards of health care advertising and the influence of commercial interests on medical practices.

It asked additional solicitor general KM Nataraj, appearing for the Centre, to submit an explanation regarding a recommendation made by the Ayurvedic Siddha and Unani Drugs Technical Advisory Board (ASUBTAB) for the omission of Rule 170 that dealt with controlling inappropriate advertisements and was previously brought into the central government notified amendment of the Drugs & Cosmetics Rules, 1945, in December 2018.

“On one hand, your minister says on the floor of the House that you will be taking effective steps against misleading ads. On the other hand, you are amending the regulation in this regard...Can you issue a rule in violation of a statute? Is it not arbitrary or a colourable exercise of power? Will it not amount to abetting something wrong?” the bench asked the Centre.

It told the ASG that the proceedings were not limited to just one FMCG or a drug company and that the court was going “to look at the larger picture”.

“We make it clear that the proceedings are not just limited to the respondent (Patanjali) but all similarly situated FMCG and drug companies issuing advertisements and taking the public for a ride, in particular babies, school going children, women and senior citizens,” the court said in its order.

Seeking a detailed response from the Centre, the court order cited the letter issued by the Ministry of AYUSH in August 2023 to all states and UTs, conveying the decision to accept the ASUBTAB’s recommendations, and asking the authorities not to initiate action against any entity under Rule 170 of the Drugs & Cosmetics Rules.

The court asked the Centre, states and UTs to submit their responses before May 7, when the issues regarding regulatory framework to prevent misleading advertisements and unethical medical practices will be taken up separately. It asked the state drug commissioners to also submit statistics regarding action taken against drug companies since 2018.

In a series of previous hearings on the IMA’s petition complaining against Ramdev’s contentious comments about modern medicine and allegedly misleading advertisements about Patanjali products, the Supreme Court expressed grave concern and emphasised the need for responsible discourse, especially during a pandemic such as Covid-19.

One of the products at the heart of the controversy is Coronil, which Patanjali claimed was an alternative treatment that cured Covid-19.

On April 10, the bench lambasted Ramdev and Balkrishna, refusing to accept their unconditional apology, and saying the judges did not want to be “so generous” after the duo were caught on the wrong foot with their “back to the wall”. On the day, it also came down heavily on the Uttarakhand government, saying the authorities kept their “eyes shut” by not cracking down on the company for violating the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectional Advertisements) Act 1954, Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Rules 1955, and Drugs and Cosmetics Rules 1945.

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