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SC urges action against misleading Advertisements, questions Centre and IMA over inaction

Supreme Court

NEW DELHI, APRIL 23: Expanding the scope of its hearing in the Patanjali Ayurved case, the Supreme Court on Tuesday took a stern view of misleading advertisements by FMCG firms and asked 3 Union Ministries to inform it about the steps they have taken to curb the practice which takes “public for a ride” and adversely affects their health.
The Court passed the order after Yoga guru Ramdev and his aide Balkrishna of Patanjali Ayurved Ltd. told a Bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah that they have issued unqualified public apology in as many as 67 newspapers over misleading advertisements and are willing to issue additional advertisements expressing their contrition.
The Bench said the public apology published in newspapers were not on record and asked those to be filed within 2 days. It posted the matter for April 30 for further consideration.
While hearing the Patanjali case, the apex Court said the implementation of the relevant provisions of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and the Consumer Protection Act and the related rules also needed a closer examination.
It said the issue was not limited to Patanjali but extended to all Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) firms which have been issuing “misleading advertisements and taking the public for a ride, in particular affecting the health of babies, school-going children and senior citizens who have been consuming products on the basis of the said misrepresentation”.
“We must clarify that we are not here to gun for a particular party or a particular agency or a particular authority. This is a PIL, and in the larger interest of the consumers, public should know which way they are going and how and why they can be misled, and how authorities are acting to prevent it”, the bench said.
The Court asked the Union Ministries of Consumer Affairs, Information and Broadcasting, and Information Technology to explain what action they have taken to prevent the misuse of consumer laws.
It also sought an explanation from the Centre over an August 2023 letter issued by the Ministry of Ayush to the licencing authorities of all States and Union Territories and Drug Controllers of Ayush asking them to not initiate any action under rule 170 of Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945.
The Bench also asked the Indian Medical Association (IMA), the petitioner in the Patanjali advertisements case, to “put its house in order”.
It said several complaints have been made about alleged unethical acts by members of the IMA who prescribe highly expensive medicines and line of treatment. The Bench also ordered impleading the National Medical Commission (NMC) as a respondent in the matter for effective assistance to the Court.
At the outset, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Ramdev and Patanjali Ayurved Ltd Managing Director Balkrishna, told the Bench they have issued on Monday unqualified apology for the “lapses” on their part.
“Where? Why it is not filed?” the Bench asked.
Rohatgi said it was issued on Monday in 67 newspapers across the country.
When the Court asked the Senior Advocate why did the respondents wait for a whole week before publishing the public apology, Rohatgi said, “Its language had to be changed”.
The Court also quizzed him about the size of advertisements.
“Is it the same size of advertisements that you normally issue in newspapers?” it asked Rohatgi, who submitted “It costs tens of lakhs (of rupees)”.
The Bench ordered that the apology published be filed on record and added it wanted to see the actual advertisement published in newspapers.
“The said advertisements are not on record. It is submitted that the same have been collated and shall be filed in the course of the day with copies to Counsel for the parties. Needful shall be done within 2 days with copies to Counsel for the parties”, it said.
The Counsel said additional advertisement shall be issued by Ramdev and Balkrishna tendering unqualified apology for the lapses on their part.
The Bench said it was necessary to implead the 3 Central Ministries in order to examine the steps taken to prevent the abuse of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act and rules, the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and the Consumer Protection Act.
It said these Ministries shall file affidavits enunciating the action they have taken to prevent the misuse/abuse of these statutes along with the relevant data since 2018.
The Bench said licencing authorities of all States and UTs shall also be impleaded as co-respondents in the matter.
The Bench told the IMA’s Counsel that while they are pointing fingers at Patanjali, “the other four fingers are also pointing at you (IMA)”. On April 16, the apex Court had warned Ramdev and Balkrishna against any attempt to “degrade allopathy” and permitted them to tender a “public apology and show contrition” within a week in the contempt proceedings in the misleading advertisements case against Patanjali Ayurved Ltd.
During the hearing, Justice Amanullah observed, “I will not take the name of the channel. It was flashing the news that this is what is done in the court today, and on the side, the advertisement was coming. What irony!” The apex 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.
During the hearing on Tuesday, the top Court also took note of an intervention application seeking imposition of Rs 1,000 crore cost on the IMA for filing the petition.
“I have nothing to do with it. I have no idea”, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Yoga guru Ramdev and his aide Balkrishna, told the Bench.
“We are very curious at the timing of the application”, the Bench said, adding that it would take up the application when the applicant is present before the Court.
The Bench has posted the matter for further hearing on April 30.
The apex 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.
Ramdev and Balkrishna had earlier tendered an “unconditional and unqualified apology” before the top Court over advertisements issued by the firm making tall claims about the medicinal efficacy of its products.
(PTI)

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