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Patanjali advertising case: Ramdev, Patanjali MD appear in SC

Yoga guru Ramdev and Patanjali Ayurved MD Acharya Balkrishna after appearing before the Supreme Court in New Delhi on April 2, 2024.
| Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on Tuesday questioned the government for “shutting its eyes” while Patanjali Ayurved “tom-tommed” its wares as panacea during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The court also turned the heat a notch higher on Baba Ramdev, self-styled yoga guru and Patanjali’s co-founder, by threatening him with perjury proceedings on top of the contempt action hanging over him.

A Bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah told the government, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, to file a detailed affidavit to “dispel the impression” that the government machinery, both at the Central and State levels, were complicit with Patanjali.

The court asked why the government did not inform the public, especially during the critical months of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, that the products advertised by Patanjali were supplementary to the main medication.

“While the proposed contemnors (Patanjali Ayurved, its managing director Balkrishna, and Baba Ramdev) were going to town saying this was the answer and there was nothing else in modern medical science… why did you choose to keep your eyes shut while they tom-tommed?” Justice Kohli asked Mr. Mehta.

The court said the proposed contemnors were taking the contempt proceedings “too lightly”.

It expressed dissatisfaction with the affidavits filed by Patanjali and Mr. Balkrishna, expressing their apologies for publishing misleading advertisements in violation of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 despite an undertaking given to the apex court on November 21, 2023.

The Bench had initiated contempt proceedings against Patanjali Ayurved and Mr. Balkrishna on February 27 for violating an assurance that they would refrain from advertising or branding products as “permanent relief” for diseases like obesity, blood pressure, asthma, etc, in violation of the 1954 Act. On November 21, the court had directed the company to not make any “casual statements” to print or electronic media about the efficacy of their medicinal products or indulge in any disparaging statements about other disciplines of medicine such as allopathy.

On Tuesday, Justice Kohli said the apologies of the company and its managing director were mere “lip-service”, perfunctory at best. They had even argued that the 1954 law was “archaic”.

“So, are you saying that a law need not be complied with because you think it archaic? As long as a law remains a law, it has to be followed,” Justice Kohli addressed senior advocate Vipin Sanghi, for Patanjali Ayurved and Mr. Balkrishna.

Mr. Ramdev was in the courtroom standing behind his counsel, senior advocate Balbir Singh. Mr. Balkrishna was beside him. The court had directed their presence in its previous order on March 19. Mr. Singh said his client had been unable to file an affidavit in response to the court’s contempt notice to him on March 19.

Mr. Singh said the affidavit was “ready”, but the yoga guru had come with the hope of personally apologising to the court.

“Being a co-founder, you (Ramdev) were well aware of the November 21 order. For you to go like a shot and hold a press conference within 24 hours of the court order shows you were cognisant of it, and you flouted it,” Justice Kohli addressed Mr. Singh.

On November 21, the apex court had directed the company to not make any “casual statements” to the print or electronic media about the efficacy of their medicinal products or indulge in any disparaging statements about other disciplines of medicine like allopathy.

Justice Amanullah said Mr. Ramdev showed “absolute defiance” if he had continued to endorse or promote products despite legal advice.

“Do you think you can write anything for an apology and get away with it. We are not so magnanimous, especially in contempt cases,” Justice Amanullah told Mr. Ramdev’s lawyers.

The court also raised questions about certain discrepancies in the affidavit handed over to the Bench by the yoga guru’s legal team.

Justice Amanullah told Mr. Singh that his client may have to face perjury proceedings. “Be prepared for all consequences,” the judge told the senior lawyer.

The court, on Mr. Mehta’s suggestion, gave the proposed contemnors a week’s time as a last opportunity to file fresh affidavits in the contempt case. The court listed the case on April 10. The Bench ordered Mr. Ramdev and Mr. Balkrishna to be present in person on the next date of hearing in court.

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