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IMA Petition: Baba Ramdev, Balkrishna given Week’s Time to Show Sincerity in their Apology

IMA Petition: Baba Ramdev, Balkrishna given Week’s Time to Show Sincerity in their Apology

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Apr 16: A visibly contrite Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev and his close associate Acharya Balkrishna, the managing director of their herbal medicinal company Patanjali Ayurved, on Tuesday unconditionally apologised with folded hands in the Supreme Court which gave them one weeks’ time to prove that they were sincere in their apology over running down other forms of medicine, particularly allopathy.

The bench of Justice Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah which had earlier twice rejected their apology, on Tuesday said they were “still not off the hook,” but agreed to give the duo a week to take suitable steps “to redeem themselves” and demonstrate their remorse after directly telling them that their plea of innocence or inadvertence cannot be accepted right away after they chose to flout court orders despite previous judicial warnings.

The bench kept the next hearing in the contempt case on April 23 before which the duo would be required to take the “suitable steps” of informing the public about the Patanjali Ayurved company’s alleged misleading advertisement claiming cure for all the diseases.

The Supreme Court interrogated the yoga guru and entrepreneur Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna for disobeying court orders that forbade Patanjali Ayurved from running misleading advertisements on health cures and sternly warned them against undermining other medical practices, even as the two offered to issue public apology to wriggle out of the contempt charge.

Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah asked pointed questions as Ramdev and Balkrishna appeared in person to answer charges of contempt of court, stemming from a series of advertisements that claimed Patanjali products could cure various diseases — a clear violation of the top court’s earlier directives and an undertaking given by Patanjali in this regard.

As soon as the proceedings commenced, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, representing the leaders of the Patanjali Ayurved empire, offered to issue a public apology but the bench called upon the two for an interaction.

The Supreme Court told yoga guru Ramdev that while he has made a significant contribution in promoting yoga in the country, it was not ready to accept his apology in the contempt case against Patanjali Ayurved in connection with its misleading ads and Covid cure claims. The court had come down heavily on the Patanjali founders during the previous hearing last week. It had also pulled up the Uttarakhand government for not acting against the Haridwar-based company.

The court said Ramdev and his aide Balkrishna defamed allopathic medicines to promote their own Ayurvedic treatment for incurable diseases. “Despite the order of the court, you published the advertisement and said those things. Ayurveda has been around since the time of Maharishi Charak. Why did you talk poorly about other medical system to promote your own method?” the court asked the yoga guru. “We did not have such intentions. We researched more than 5,000 processes,” he responded. “We are talking about your attitude. We have summoned you because you have disobeyed our order,” the court said.

Justice Amanullah asked if the apology was “even heartfelt.” “Tendering apology is not enough. You should suffer the consequences for violating the court’s order,” he said. The court asked Ramdev and Balkrishna to appear in front of it again on April 23 to show the intent behind their apology.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi assured the court that his clients would take steps, unilaterally at that, to redeem themselves in the eyes of the law and the public. The hearing began with the Bench summoning Ramdev and Balkrishna to the front of the courtroom

Justice Kohli addressed Ramdev, dressed in his trademark saffron attire, in Hindi that the court was aware of his work in the field of yoga. The Bench however asked him why he had continued to advertise his herbal medicines despite the Union government recommending an investigation against them under the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act.

The court had said the advertisements of Patanjali to cure everything from diabetes, obesity to liver dysfunction and even COVID-19 during the months of pandemic were “deliberate and willful violations” of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act of 1954 and its Rules.

The judges questioned him as to why he had held a press conference, that too, a day after giving an undertaking in the Supreme Court to refrain from advertising “cures” in violation of the 1954 Act. Justice Kohli asked Ramdev whether it was right to point the finger against other fields of medicine like allopathy, and claim his company’s medicines were far superior to them. Justice Kohli said it was “irresponsible behaviour” on the part of the ascetic to make such claims when a large number of people looked up to him.

Ramdev said he has never sought to denigrate any other form of medicine, including allopathy, and that a press conference, which was conducted in November last year – a day after Patanjali rendered its assurance to the court against issuing any misleading advertisement of contentious statements, aimed at bringing clinical evidence and real-life testimonies to the notice of the people.

“Whatever you do, it has to be within the four corners of the law… You cannot denigrate or shoot down other systems to promote your system. We won’t allow that. You are before us because you have apparently committed contempt…There are incurable diseases, and no advertisements are allowed in respect of them. Law is equal for everyone. And if you think your system has a cure, prove it before the government panel first,” the bench told him.

At one point, the yoga guru admitted that he might have got carried away at some point with his claims. He folded his hands in apology to the Supreme Court, saying he would be prudent in future. Mr Balkrishna echoed the yoga guru saying he had realised his faults. He said it was lack of knowledge on his part.

Justice Amanullah said the “law was equally for all.” Judges of the court followed the Constitution to which they had sworn an oath to uphold. It did not matter who was on the other side, the majesty of the court had to be safeguarded. In the previous hearing, on April 10, the Supreme Court had refused to accept a second round of apology from Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna in the contempt case.

The court had flagged concern about Fast Moving Consumer Goods’ (FMCG) companies like Patanjali playing with the health of the gullible public while government failed to crack the whip. “The victim is always the public. We are concerned with all those FMCG companies who are taking their consumers and clients up and down the garden path, showing them very rosy pictures about what their products can do for them,” Justice Hima Kohli had observed.

“This country and its people have hopes from you. You should not have done all this… You cannot degrade allopathy. Don’t denigrate any other system,” it said.

Ramdev replied that he accepts his mistake and undertakes to remain mindful in future. “The court is right. I will be extremely careful in future so that there is no defiance of a court order, or my position becomes delicate because of my mistakes. It happened because of our zealousness to tell the world about our discoveries and research. But we should have been more careful,” he added.

Balkrishna supported this stance, highlighting their respect for the court’s concerns and their commitment to more responsible advertising in the future. The court, however, told them that it was still to make up its mind on whether to accept their apology or not.

“At times, it does not appear that the apology is from the heart when you try to justify what you did. There has been a violation of not one but three court orders. Today, we are not saying ‘we condone you’. We are still deciding whether to accept your apology. You cannot be considered as ignorant as you could defy three court orders,” the bench told them.

Turning to Rohatgi, the bench said Ramdev and Balkrishna were free to take measures that they deem appropriate to redeem themselves, adding the court would take up the matter against on April 23.

The case emanated from a petition by the Indian Medical Association’s complaining against Ramdev’s contentious comments about modern medicine, popularly known as allopathy in India, and allegedly misleading advertisements about Patanjali products.

The court had admonished Patanjali for spreading misinformation that could undermine public trust in the health care system and had recorded an undertaking by the company in November 2023 that it would stop running any misleading advertisements and issuing disparaging statements against modern or any other form of medicine.

However, the medical association came back to the bench with a video clip of a press conference held by Ramdev and Patanjali advertisements in national media merely a day after their undertaking in the court on November 21. Additionally, the association produced a series of advertisements branding Patanjali products as cure for several ailments, including hypertension and diabetes.

Irked by the contravention of its order and its own assurance, the court by its subsequent orders of February 27, March 19, April 2 and April 10 called Ramdev and Balkrishna in person, asking them to show cause why they should not be punished for contempt of court. They have since filed a pair of apology affidavits each, but the court has not found them satisfactory and bonafide.

On April 10, the bench lambasted Ramdev and Balkrishna, refusing to accept their unconditional apology for issuing misleading advertisements and saying the judges did not want to be “so generous” after the duo were caught on the wrong foot with their “back to the wall.” On the day, it also came down heavily on the Uttarakhand government, saying the authorities kept their “eyes shut” by not cracking down on the company for violating advertising rules by making false claims about curing diseases such as diabetes and asthma.

The court on April 10 reproached the Uttarakhand officials for acting “in cahoots” and failing to register cases against Patanjali for issuing advertisements promising cure for lifestyle and other specified ailments prohibited under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954, Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Rules 1955, and Drugs and Cosmetics Rules 1945. It directed the state licensing officers and district ayurvedic officers posted in the state since 2018 (since when complaints against Patanjali are pending) to explain their inaction within two weeks.
Speaking to the media outside the court, Ramdev said, “I have said what I had to. I have full faith in the judiciary.”

The matter dates back to the Covid years, when Patanjali launched a drug, Coronil, in 2021 and Ramdev described it as the “first evidence-based medicine for COVID-19.” The Indian Medical Association spoke out against the “blatant lie” that Coronil had WHO certification.

Subsequently, a video of Ramdev, in which he was heard saying that allopathy was a “stupid and bankrupt science,” went viral. He said no modern medicine was curing Covid. The IMA sent a legal notice to Ramdev and sought an apology and withdrawal of statements. Patanjali Yogpeeth responded that Ramdev was reading out from a forwarded WhatsApp message and has no ill-will against modern science.

In August 2022, IMA moved a petition against Patanjali after it published an advertisement in newspapers titled ‘Misconceptions Spread By Allopathy: Save Yourself And The Country From The Misconceptions Spread By Pharma And Medical Industry.’ The ad claimed that Patanjali drugs had cured people of diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid, liver cirrhosis, arthritis and asthma.

The doctors’ body said the “continuous, systematic, and unabated spread of misinformation” comes alongside Patanjali’s efforts to make false claims about curing certain diseases through use of Patanjali products.

On November 21, 2023, the Supreme Court warned Patanjali against claims that its products can completely cure ailments such as diabetes and high blood pressure and threatened to slap heavy fines.

Patanjali’s counsel, court documents say, then assured that “henceforth, there shall not be any violation of any of the laws, especially relating to advertisement and branding of products.”

On January 15 this year, the Supreme Court received an anonymous letter addressed to Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud with copies marked to Justice Kohli and Justice Amanullah. The letter mentioned misleading advertisements Patanjali continued to put out. IMA’s counsel, Senior Advocate PS Patwalia, also showed the court newspaper advertisements after the November 21, 2023 warning and transcript of a press conference by Ramdev and Balkrishna right after the court’s hearing.

It sought a reply from the company on why contempt proceedings should not be initiated. In strong remarks, the court said the “country is being taken for a ride” and that the government was “sitting with its eyes shut.”

On March 19, the court was told that Patanjali had not filed the reply to the contempt notice. It then asked Ramdev and Balkrishna to appear in person. The court came down heavily on Ramdev and Balkrishna in its April 2 hearing for their “absolute defiance” over not filing proper affidavits over the misleading advertisements. The court told them to be “ready for action.”

“Your apology is not persuading this court. It is more of a lip service,” the Supreme Court said, rejecting their apology, and asked them to file affidavits within a week. This set of apologies was rejected on April 10 after the Supreme Court noted that they were sent to the media first.




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