SC refuses to accept apology from Patanjali founders, asks them to appear on 10 April

The Supreme Court also pulled up the Centre for not taking action and said they were sitting with "their eyes shut"

The top court observed that advertisements issued by Patanjali are in the "teeth of law" of the land. (photo: IANS)
The top court observed that advertisements issued by Patanjali are in the "teeth of law" of the land. (photo: IANS)

NH Digital

The Supreme Court on Tuesday, 2 April refused to accept the apology from Patanjali Ayurved's co-founder Ramdev and Managing Director Balakrishna for failing to obey its directives and asked them to be present in court for the next hearing as well on 10 April.

The bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah were hearing a case where it had previously issued a contempt notice to both Balkrishna and Ramdev for continuing to publish misleading advertisements about their ayurvedic products claiming medical cures. The bench had on 19 March ordered both Balkrishna and Ramdev to appear before it on the next hearing. After the earlier hearing, they had submitted an unconditional apology for publishing these medical advertisements.

The top court observed that advertisements issued by Patanjali are in the "teeth of law" of the land. "Be ready for action," the Supreme Court told Ramdev.

The Court was hearing a petition filed by the Indian Medical Association in 2022 to clamp down on the smear campaign against vaccination drives and evidence-based medicines by Ramdev. The petition also alleged that Patanjali’s advertisements made false claims about curing certain diseases, such as asthma.

The IMA petition states that though the Ministry of AYUSH signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) for monitoring misleading advertisements of AYUSH drugs, Patanjali has continued its 'disregard for the law, violating the mandate with impunity'.

"We are not happy with your apology. You should have made sure that the solemn undertaking should have been in letter and spirit. We can also say that we are sorry for not accepting it. Your apology is not persuading this court. It is more of a lip service," said Justice Kohli.

On hearing these terse words, senior advocate Vipin Sanghi, who was appearing for Patanjali MD, claimed in court that the media department of the company wasn't aware of the SC order. Pulling up the lawyer for the explanations, the SC bench said that it was the duty of the company to convey it to the media department and expressed disapproval that the statement in the Patanjali MD's affidavit that the Drugs and Cosmetics (Magic Remedies) Act is archaic.

The bench underscored that the law cannot be defied stating it was archaic. “We refuse to believe that he was not aware as the co-founder of the organization. You held the press conference within 24 hours and shows that you were cognizant of the order,” said Justice Kohli.

Justice Amanullah added that a reference was made to the SC's order, which means that Ramdev was fully aware of the order. “Not just the SC; every order passed by the Courts across this country has to be respected,” added Justice Kohli. The bench added that Ramdev did enough for yoga but that does not give him a license to critic or mock other modes of medicine.

Addressiing Balbir Singh, who was appearing for Ramdev, Justice Kohli said, “Some matters have to be taken to their logical conclusion. We do not have your affidavit.”

"This is all humbug! You say 'if the court feels, etc.' ... We cannot look into your heart! This is not how contempt cases are dealt with. In some matters, some cases have to be taken to their logical end. There cannot be so much magnanimity!" Justice Amanullah added.

When it was mentioned that both of them were present in court to apologise, Justice Amanullah said that if they wanted to apologise to the Court, they should have been the first ones to say.

The Supreme Court also pulled up the Centre for not taking action and said they were sitting with their eyes shut. "We are wondering why the government chose to keep their eyes shut," the bench had said.

Addressing the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was appearing for the union government, the bench underscored that it had questions for the AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) Ministry on why it did not publicise its stance that ayurvedic products were, at best, a supplement to other medicines.

Justice Kohli questioned the union government’s failure to act against Patanjali.

The Supreme Court also asked Ramdev and Balkrishna to be present in the court on April 10 - the next date of hearing in the case.

Senior advocate PS Patwalia appeared for the Indian Medical Association (IMA), which had filed the case against Patanjali. "They have tried to shift the blame to the media department. They show a boy and say we have cured him!" said Patwalia.

During the hearing, the Court ordered that the Drugs and License Department should be also added as a party to the case.

The Supreme Court, on 27 February, had imposed a temporary ban on Patanjali Ayurved from advertising or branding its products as 'medicines' and reminded it to stop its "false and misleading" advertisements claiming these so-called medicines would provide all kinds of remedies.

In the earlier hearing, the court had said that Patanjali had been taking the country for a ride by making misleading claims that its medicines would cure certain diseases despite no empirical evidence for the same. Justice Amanullah addressed additional solicitor general K.M. Nataraj, saying: “The entire country is taken for a ride! You wait for two years when the Act says (misleading advertisement) is prohibited”.

During the last hearing, IMA lawyer P.S. Patwalia pointed out that even though Patanjali had been pulled up last year, they had held a press conference the “very next day after the order”.

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