Supreme Court bans Baba Ramdev's Patanjali ads, holds him in contempt of court

Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah also slammed the government for "sitting with its eyes closed" while "the entire country is taken for a ride"

Baba Ramdev brandishes a Patanjali product. Both company and co-owners have been indicted for "false and misleading" ads (photo courtesy Patanjali Products/Facebook)
Baba Ramdev brandishes a Patanjali product. Both company and co-owners have been indicted for "false and misleading" ads (photo courtesy Patanjali Products/Facebook)

Ashlin Mathew

The Supreme Court today, 27 February, 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.

The Court also warned Patanjali Ayurved from making any statement against any other system of medicine, viz, "allopathy".

The matter is to be heard again after two weeks.

A bench of justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah issued a notice to Patanjali's owners, Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balakrishnan, asking why contempt proceedings should not be initiated for violating its orders.

You had the courage and guts to come up with this advertisement after the Court's order? You are tempting the Court...
Justice Amanullah to Patanjali's representative in the Supreme Court

The apex court also slammed the Union government for remaining silent, saying:

The government is sitting with its eyes closed...

According to the order passed today, 27 February, Patanjali Ayurved cannot advertise its products relating to diseases specified in the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954 until further orders.

The Act includes any drug which can be used for the prevention of conception in women, the correction of menstrual disorders in women, sexual impotence, appendicitis, arthritis, heart diseases, glaucoma, blood pressure, typhoid, and diabetes, disorders of the brain, uterus, nervous system and prostate gland. The Act lists 54 such diseases and disorders.

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'.

The bench was critical of the Union government too for not taking action against the company, and asked what action had been taken under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954, with respect to the Patanjali advertisements since the last order was passed.

The court 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…

Attempting to wriggle out of the indictment, Nataraj said that the states have to take action under the Act. He, however, agreed that no one should be putting out misleading advertisements.

The Court remained unimpressed and asked the Union government to file an affidavit detailing the steps it has taken to prevent such a happenstance.

During the 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”.

When the court asked what the AYUSH ministry had to say on the matter, Patwalia underscored that there was no question of regulation as Patanjali could not have found a cure for blood pressure issues.

When the bench questioned Patanjali’s lawyer Vipin Sanghi about this, he attempted to divert the issue by stating that “as far as Baba Ramdev is concerned, he is a sanyasi”.

Appalled, Justice Amanullah said:

“We are not bothered by [Baba Ramdev being a sanyasi, by who he is... there is a prima facie flouting!"
Justice Amanullah to Patanjali's lawyer Vipin Sanghi

"They were aware of the order and prima facie they are flouting it," added Justice Kohli.

Patwalia termed Sanghi's statement "outrageous".

The irate court wanted to ban all advertisements from Patanjali, but Sanghi argued that this was excessive as the company manufactures other products such as toothpaste that are unaffected by the Act, and a complete ban would affect their commercial operations far beyond the intended ambit of the plea.

The bench then modified the order to specify that the ban would apply to all products related to diseases specified under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954.

In November 2023, the apex had court pulled up Patanjali Ayurved for continuing to publish misleading claims and advertisements against evidence-based medicine, and warned that the court would consider “imposing costs to the extent of Rs 1 crore on every product regarding which a false claim is made that it can ‘cure’ a particular disease”.

Then the bench, also led by Justice Amanullah, had underscored that it wasn’t a debate between evidence-based medicine and Ayurvedic products.

The bench had then asked Nataraj to come up with a viable solution to the problem.

In another case, the Delhi High Court had asked Ramdev to not mislead people about evidence-based medicine and not to make any claims beyond what authorities had stated about Patanjali’s product Coronil. The court had reprimanded Patanjali at the time for advertising it as a 'cure' for Covid-19.

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