Supreme Court reserves order in contempt case against Ramdev | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Supreme Court reserves order in contempt case against Ramdev

ByAbraham Thomas
May 15, 2024 06:58 AM IST

The court said there is no doubt that Ramdev and his team played a big role in taking yoga to the world stage, the matter concerning Patanjali products is a different thing

The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved orders on contempt notices issued to the yoga entrepreneur and Patanjali managing director Balkrishna over misleading advertisements, even as it took Indian Medical Association president RV Asokan to task for his caustic comments against the apex court in a recent interview.

Ramdev (File photo)
Ramdev (File photo)

With both Ramdev and Balkrishna present in court, a bench of justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said while there is no doubt that Ramdev and his team played a big role in taking yoga to the world stage, the matter concerning Patanjali products is a different thing, dispensing with the need for their personal presence at future hearings.

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The court said, “Our intention was to see that people are not taken for a ride. There is a lot of ‘aastha’ (faith) in Baba Ramdev. People follow him blindly as they look up to him. In bringing yoga to the world stage, he and his team have played a big role. But when it comes to Patanjali products, it is a different matter.”

The court enquired from Ramdev’s lawyers — senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Balbir Singh — whether the 14 products whose production was banned by the Uttarakhand licensing authority on April 15 have been removed from Patanjali stores as well. Singh told the court that the sale of the products has been stopped online.

“You may have stopped the online sale, but is it removed from your stocks? File an affidavit in two weeks. We are reserving orders.”

Singh said Patanjali has a huge network of more than 1,000 stores and sought more time. The court granted them three weeks to file the affidavit indicating steps taken to recall stocks from Patanjali agents. Rohatgi pointed out that the company reserved the right to challenge the order against the ban on the 14 products. The order said, “The affidavit filed will be without prejudice to the rights and contentions of the proposed contemnors to assail the ban on sale of products before appropriate forum.”

The order came on a petition filed by IMA which approached the court in 2022 against disparaging remarks by Ramdev and Patanjali against modern medicine. The petition showed that Patanjali’s advertisements promising miracle cures for lifestyle disorders and other illness violated the law under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 and the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1954. The court issued contempt notices to Ramdev and Balkrishna after the advertisements continued to appear in newspapers in violation of an undertaking given by the company in November last year.

IMA president RV Asokan was not spared by the court for his comments against the Supreme Court in a recent interview given to a news agency where he criticised the order asking the National Medical Commission to inform it about cases of misleading advertisements against medical professionals. Taking up Asokan’s unconditional apology, the bench said, “We are not willing to accept your affidavit. You were the one who drove the other side to court and this is exactly what you have done.”

Asokan said in his affidavit that he regretted his mistake and realised the error in making such statements in the interview.

However, he added that his intention was not to disrespect the court. The bench pointed out that he was president of IMA, a body with 350,000 doctors as members, “What is the example you are setting? IMA is a vital body of the country. These are very castigating statements. When faced with this kind of provocation, we use our discretion. But that does not mean you go to town with these kind of comments on what the court ought to do.”

Senior advocate PS Patwalia appearing along with advocate Prabhas Bajaj for IMA sought one more opportunity as the bench asked why no public apology was issued following the interview.

“What precluded you from doing what the other contemnors (Ramdev and Balkrishna) did? You could have asked your lawyer to expunge the remarks or refute them. You are in this case from day one. You can’t be sitting on your couch and lampooning the court in a sub-judice matter where you are the petitioner.”

Giving another chance to Asokan to file an affidavit, the bench said judges don’t respond to criticism because they have no ego: “We are magnanimous and wonder whether to take judicial notice to send a message across to the public. We are the first ones to uphold free speech but there are times when there needs to be self-restraint on your part.”

Earlier this month, the court took serious exception to the misleading advertisements seeking action from state authorities and central ministries on the action taken against advertisers based on complaints. The court even suggested that celebrities and influencers who endorse products are equally liable for action as those who advertise products in a misleading manner. The court in its order passed on May 7 directed advertisers to give an undertaking before issuing advertisements in print or electronic media attesting that these are not misleading.

On Tuesday, the court received responses from only two states – Nagaland and West Bengal – while other states sought time to file their responses. Even information from the Centre on action taken against misleading advertisements under the Food Safety and Standards Act was not forthcoming.

Posting the matter for July 9, the bench said, “States have to have much more sense of responsibility to public health. Besides pointing out the complaints received, the state shall also indicate suo motu action against misleading advertisements by manufacturers or advertisers of relevant products, that will include food products.”

The bench said common citizens are not aware of the law and hence action must be taken by the authorities concerned. “As public servants you have to be proactive. You have to move out of your comfort zones to do something. Common man does not know what the law is. In your supervisory authority, did you take any suo motu action?” the bench remarked.

The IMA petition cited Section 3 of the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act that prohibits any advertisement claiming diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of any lifestyle diseases such as blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, cervical spondylitis, obesity, heart diseases, etc. Further, Patanjali’s claim to eradicate asthma and cure diabetes was in direct contravention to the Drugs & Cosmetics Rules, 1954, it said.

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