Patanjali ad case: SC slams Uttarakhand's licensing authority for "inaction"

Supreme Court questions why the authority has "woken up" only after the court's 10 April order

Baba Ramdev with Patanjali products (photo: National Herald archives)
Baba Ramdev with Patanjali products (photo: National Herald archives)


The Supreme Court on Tuesday, 30 April, came down heavily on the Uttarakhand State Licensing Authority for its "inaction" for six years in the misleading advertisements case involving Patanjali Ayurved Limited, saying it has to be honest with the court if it wanted "sympathy and compassion".

While expressing dissatisfaction over the explanation offered in the affidavits, including the one filed by the State Licensing Authority (SLA), the apex court questioned why the authority has "woken up" only after the court's 10 April order.

"The long and short of it is, when you want to move, you move like lightning and if you don't want to move, you drag your feet forever and ever. This is what it shows," a bench of justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah observed after perusing the affidavit filed by the SLA.

During the hearing, the bench appreciated the "marked improvement" in the unconditional public apology published in newspapers by yoga guru Ramdev, his aide Balkrishna and Patanjali Ayurved Ltd in the case.

It also took strong note of the comments by Indian Medical Association (IMA) president Dr R V Asokan regarding the apex court and warned that there may be "serious consequences".

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Patanjali, told the bench that he has come across a "very disturbing interview" given by the president of IMA yesterday.

"He (IMA president) says why has the court turned its fingers at us. The court is making vague and irrelevant statements. The court is taking a broadside at us. We have done a great job. Our people have died," Rohatgi said.

"This will be more serious than what we have been doing now… So much water has flown and the proceeding has taken a turn. Be prepared for more serious consequences," Justice Amanullah told the IMA's counsel.

Justice Kohli added, "If it is correct what is said by the other side, then let us tell you, you have not covered yourself with glory."

Rohatgi, who referred to a news report of an English daily on the IMA chief's interview, said he would file a copy of the publication carrying the interview.

In an interview given to PTI on Monday, the IMA president had said it was "unfortunate" that the Supreme Court criticised IMA and also the practices of the private doctors.

The affidavit filed in the apex court by the SLA referred to the steps taken by it against Patanjali Ayurved Ltd and Divya Pharmacy after the April 10 order and said it showed that the authority has been "vigilant in its duties".

"Suddenly, he realises his power and responsibility," the bench said during the hearing, adding, "Now you have realised there is a law. You have woken up to it. You have also realised that you have all the powers that is vested in you… which you were oblivious to till the court woke you up."

Justice Kohli said in the light of what is being said in the affidavit that steps were taken after the 10 April order, can the authority afford to say that they were vigilant in their duty.

"You are giving certificate to yourself?" Justice Amanullah said.

The bench also asked the predecessor of the incumbent joint director of SLA as to what steps he had taken during his tenure.

"How do you explain this inaction for six years from 2018?" it told the SLA's counsel, adding, "Why for six years, everything was in a limbo?"

Justice Amanullah said he had asked the SLA in the beginning itself to be honest with the court if it wanted sympathy and compassion because that is the only thing which can save it.

"And being honest means you disclose… that look here, I am too small a fry, I was under pressure. This is also honesty. If you want sympathy, let's be honest," he said.

In its affidavit filed in the top court, the SLA said it had issued an order on 15 April to Divya Pharmacy and Patanjali Ayurved Ltd stating that manufacturing licences for 14 of their products "are suspended with immediate effect under Rule 159(1) of The Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945 for repeated violations under the said Acts and Rules".

It said on 16 April, the drug inspector/district ayurvedic and unani officer, Haridwar, had filed a criminal complaint before the chief judicial magistrate against Ramdev, Balkrishna, Divya Pharmacy and Patanjali Ayurved Ltd under sections 3, 4 and 7 of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act.

During the hearing, the bench said within three days, the SLA had done everything which they should have done in routine much earlier in accordance with the law.

"Our main concern was only to ask you whether you took action in accordance with law. What emerges from all the three affidavits is, no, you did not," justice Kohli observed.

The bench noted it had earlier said all the officers holding the post of district ayurvedic and unani officer, Haridwar, for the period from 2018 till date shall also file their affidavits explaining the inaction on their part despite correspondence forwarded by the ministry of Ayush enclosing complaints pointing out non-compliance of the provisions of the Act and rules.

The counsel appearing for the SLA urged the court that they be permitted to file a better affidavit in the matter.

The bench granted 10 days time to file the affidavit and posted the matter for hearing on 14 May.

The court is hearing a plea filed in 2022 by the IMA alleging a smear campaign against the Covid vaccination drive and modern systems of medicine.

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