Patanjali ads: SC lashes out at Ramdev and Balkrishna

NEW DELHI, 2 Apr: The Supreme Court on Tuesday tore into Patanjali Ayurved’s defence for putting out misleading advertisements, rejecting the apology from yoga guru Ramdev and the firm’s managing director Acharya Balkrishna as “lip service” and saying that they had broken “every barrier.”

The bench, headed by Justice Hima Kohli, also questioned the Centre’s alleged inaction over Patanjali’s tall claims about the efficacy of its products and denigrating allopathy during the Covid peak and asked why the government chose to keep its “eyes shut.”

The bench posted the matter for hearing on 10 April and said that both Ramdev and Balkrishna have to appear again.

“You have to abide by undertaking given to court and you have broken every barrier,” the bench said.

Sternly reprimanding Ramdev and his number two Balkrishna, Justice Kohli said that the court was taking their apology with a “sack full of salt.” The bench also comprised Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah.

The bench also warned Patanjali, Ramdev and Balkrishna that it would take note of “perjury” as certain documents, which were said to be attached with other papers, were created later on.

“This is a clear case of perjury. We are not closing the doors on you but we are telling all that we have noted,” the bench said.

The apex court, which granted Ramdev and Balkrishna a last one-week opportunity to file affidavits, took strong note of their “absolute defiance” in not adhering to the undertaking given before it in the case filed by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

Patanjali Ayurved Ltd assured the top court on 21 November last year that it would not violate any law, especially those relating to advertising or branding of products manufactured and marketed by it. It also assured the bench that “no casual statements claiming medicinal efficacy or against any system of medicine will be released to the media in any form.”

The top court had said that Patanjali Ayurved Ltd is “bound down to such assurance.” The non-observance of the specific undertaking and subsequent media statements irked the bench, which later issued notices to show cause why contempt proceedings should be not initiated against them.

On Tuesday, the court strongly disapproved of Balkrishna’s statement that the Drugs and Cosmetics (Magic Remedies) Act is “archaic” and said that Patanjali Ayurved’s advertisements were in the “teeth of the Act” and violated with impunity the undertaking given to the court.

The bench warned Ramdev and Balkrishna, who both were present in the court, to be ready to face the consequences.

“Your apology is not persuading this court really to accept it. We think it is more of a lip service,” Justice Kohli told the counsel representing the MD of Patanjali Ayurved.

Observing that some matters have to be taken to their logical conclusion, the bench said that there cannot be “so much magnanimity.”

“You have to abide by the undertaking given to the court,” Justice Kohli said, and added, “The purpose of contempt is to make a person realise that the majesty of the law is above all.”

Senior advocate Vipin Sanghi, the counsel representing Patanjali, said that the firm’s media department was not aware of the fact that the top court had restrained it from continuing with advertisements or branding of products manufactured and marketed by it which are meant to cure diseases, disorders or conditions specified in the Act.

“Mr Sanghi, once it is a court proceeding and there are specific undertaking given by you to the court, whose duty is to convey it to entire chain down the line?” Justice Kohli asked.

The bench said that the undertaking has to be abided by in letter and spirit.

“That did not happen. Just to say that now you are sorry, we can also say we are sorry and we are not willing to accept such an explanation. Your media department is not a standalone island in your office” Justice Kohli said.

Senior advocate Balbir Singh, appearing for Ramdev, said that the yoga guru is tendering an unconditional apology and they will file a better affidavit.

Keeping in mind the stature and the social respect of Ramdev and Balkrishna, there is an onerous responsibility on them to behave responsibly and they owe a better explanation not just to the public but to the court, Justice Kohli said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, offered his assistance in the contempt proceedings and said that he is willing to sit down with the counsel for the parties to resolve the issue.

“What has happened should not have happened,” he said.

Justice Kohli said that 2020 and 2021 was a critical period for the whole world with Covid at its peak and there was a recommendation by the Centre’s committee that Ayurvedic products were supplementary to main medicines.

“The contemnors were going to town saying that this is the answer and the cure and there is nothing available in the modern science which can address it. They were aware of the fact that they have been cautioned not to do that. You choose to keep your eyes shut,” she said.

Mehta said that they will place the relevant material before the court.

On 19 March, the apex court directed Ramdev and Balkrishna to appear before it after taking exception to the company’s failure to respond to the notice issued in the case relating to advertisements of the firm’s products and their medicinal efficacy.

The top court had said that it deemed it appropriate to issue Ramdev a show cause notice as advertisements issued by Patanjali, which were in the teeth of the undertaking given to the court on 21 November, 2023, reflect an endorsement by him. (PTI)