“Absolute defiance, humbug, perjury:” Supreme Court slams Patanjali over its apology affidavit in misleading ads case

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday rebuked Patanjali Ayurved over the casual apology affidavit it submitted before the Court for its failure to stop carrying misleading advertisements to promote its ayurvedic products by disparaging modern medicine [Indian Medical Association & Anr v. Union of India and Ors].

A bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah took a dim view of a statement made by Patanjali that its media wing was not aware of the Court having ordered the company to halt the broadcast of such advertisements.

The said statement had been made in an apology affidavit submitted by Patanjali’s Managing Director, Acharya Balkrishna.

“If this is indefensible, then your apology will not work. This is a gross violation of the undertaking given to the top court. You have to ensure that your undertaking which is solemn should have been adhered to. We can say that we do not wish to accept that the media department does not know about what is happening in this court and it is an island. This is more of a lip service! … You violated the solemn undertaking with impunity. We are not willing to accept this and this is perfunctory! What is the reason to accept your apology?” Justice Kohli remarked.

“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.

During the hearing, the bench further noted that Patanjali appeared to be guilty of perjury (lying to the court).

“You said documents have been attached, but the documents were created later on. This is a clear case of perjury! We are not closing the doors on you but we are telling all that we have noted,” Justice Kohli said.

The bench also criticised Patanjali’s founder, Baba Ramdev, for the manner in which he held a press conference shortly after the top court cautioned Patanjali against publishing misleading ads.

The Court was not impressed by a reply by Ramdev’s counsel that the strictures from the bench would serve as a lesson for him.

“We are not here to teach them. (With) the respect they command, they cannot be compared to common citizens. They claim to have done great research. We are taking this seriously because of this only. We usually do not follow through contempt cases and it is about making one realise the majesty of law but there are exceptions and perhaps you are falling under that exception,” the Court said.

Following a Court order passed on March 19, both Ramdev and Balkrishna were present at the Court today.

The Court today made it clear that their personal presence is not dispensed with, and that they would have to appear before the Court on the next hearing too. The matter will be heard next on April 10, when Patanjali and its management have been ordered to file a better affidavit of apology.

“…It is also stated that the affidavit will be filed today and a better one is also to be filed. Last opportunity given to file and let it be filed within one week,” the Court ordered.

Addressing senior advocate Balbir Singh, who represented Baba Ramdev today, the Court added,

“Our goal is for the rule of law is to be followed and the faith in the Constitution is upheld. This is the last opportunity given because of the trust we have in you.”

Justice hima kohli and Justice ahsanuddin amanullah
Patanjali was represented by senior advocate Vipin Sanghi who submitted that Patanjali’s activities were not meant to only be commercial. However, this too, did not find favour with the Court.

“It is a commercial organisation,” Justice Kohli replied.

“Don’t say you are serving the public interest or public good etc.,” Justice Amanullah added.

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!” Patwalia submitted today.

Why didn’t Central government act against Patanjali ads? Court asks
The Central government was represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

Addressing the Union’s counsel, the Court said it has 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.

“We have questions for AYUSH. You issued notice to Patanjali and they filed a reply and reply is not before us and we are wondering why. COVID was in 2022 and you had yourself stated that these were at best a supplement to the main medicine. This was not publicized at all. Nothing could move without Central go-ahead during COVID and you did nothing to make this known. It was a critical period,” Justice Kohli observed.

She went on to question the Central government over its apparent failure to act against Patanjali, despite the latter’s disparaging claims against modern medicine.

“AYUSH has much to commend and there is a limit to what they can do. But the manner in which other modes have been disparaged is utterly shocking. They have mocked the others. Have you seen the transcript?” Justice Kohli asked.

“He (Baba Ramdev) has done a lot for Yoga. But that cannot be stretched to pick holes in everything else,” Justice Amanullah added.

After today’s hearing, the Court has ordered that the Drugs and License Department be also added as a party to the case.

“Take contempt seriously:” Court to Patanjali
Senior advocate Balbir Singh, meanwhile, urged the Court to accept Ramdev’s in-person apology.

“We are tendering unconditional apology. He is here personally present to apologise.”

Justice Kohli replied that the apology should be put on a written affidavit and also criticised Ramdev’s decision to hold a press conference on the matter.

“We need an affidavit and if so, you cannot just fly it under our nose. Take this contempt seriously. We are getting an impression … You are representing somebody who is in teeth of an undertaking given to this court. For you to go like a shot and give a press conference in 24 hours shows you knew about the proceedings and then you violated it,” she said.

“It is a mistake and the majesty of the court cannot be disrespected. This is a lesson learnt,” Singh assured.

“Then lessons should have been taken to the logical end. This is absolute defiance,” Justice Kohli replied.

Senior advocate Singh responded by assuring that a better affidavit could be filed.

“He (Ramdev) wants to apologise personally and we (Patanjali) can file a better affidavit,” Singh said.

The Court, however, expressed that Patanjali and its management should have heeded an earlier warning to take the contempt of court case seriously.

“Your predecessor was (senior advocate) Mr Rohatgi and he was to appear for both (Ramdev, Balkrishna). It was made clear to him that we are taking it seriously,” the Court said, addressing senior advocate Singh.

The bench was hearing a plea filed by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) against an alleged smear campaign carried out by Patanjali and its founder and self-styled yoga guru, Baba Ramdev against the COVID-19 vaccination drive and modern medicine.

Patanjali Ayurved and its Managing Director Acharya Balkrishna had on March 21 tendered an unconditional apology before the Court over its advertisements targeting modern medicine.

Before this, the Court imposed a temporary ban on such advertisements and issued contempt of court notices to the company and Balkrishna for making misleading claims.

On March 19, the Court had directed Ramdev and Balkrishna to be personally present before it after they failed to file a reply to the show-cause notice in the contempt proceedings.

Earlier, in November 2023, the Supreme Court had threatened to impose costs of ₹1 crore per false claim made in each advertisement for Patanjali Ayurved products that claim to cure diseases.

The top court had directed Patanjali not to publish false advertisements in the future.

However, since such ads were published despite the warning, the Court imposed a temporary ban on Patanjali Ayurved’s ads, while lamenting that the company has been taking the country for a ride.

The company tendered a formal apology in an affidavit filed before the top court. Patanjali added that it has the highest regard for rule of law and that its media wing was not aware of the court’s earlier directive to halt Patanjali’s ads.

Pertinently, the multinational company also asserted that it has science and clinical research backing its ayurvedic products, which was not available at the time of enactment of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940.

This stance failed to impress the Court today.

“You should have informed the Ministry. Did you? You should have told all this to the government … Science, of course, progresses. Much has to be said about the Ministry affidavit as well,” Justice Kohli said.

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