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‘Apology Same Size As Ads?’ Supreme Court Grills Ramdev, Aide Balkrishna

Hearing the misleading ads case against Patanjali Ayurved, the Supreme Court today asked if the size of an apology it put out in newspapers today was similar to its full-page advertisements of its products.  Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Patanjali founders Ramdev and Balkrishna, said they have filed a fresh set of apologies before the court.

The bench asked why the apologies were filed yesterday and that it should have been done earlier. Mr Rohatgi said the apology was published in 67 newspapers at a cost of ₹ 10 lakh. “Has the apology been published prominently? Same font and size as your earlier advertisements?” Justice Hima Kohli asked. When Mr Rohatgi said the company had spent lakhs, the court replied, “We are not bothered.”

The court noted that it has received an application seeking a ₹ 1000 crore fine against the Indian Medical Association (IMA) for its case against Patanjali. “Is it a proxy plea? We suspect,” the bench said, as Mr Rohatgi stressed his clients have nothing to do with it.

The Supreme Court adjourned the matter for a week after Ramdev said he will publish a bigger apology in newspapers.  

Hours ahead of a Supreme Court hearing in the misleading ads case against it, Patanjali Ayurved put out an apology in national dailies, stressing that they have utmost respect for the court and that their mistakes will not be repeated.

This comes after Patanjali founders, Yoga guru Ramdev and his aide Balkrishna, were pulled up by a Supreme Court bench over the company’s misleading claims to cure diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The court has earlier rejected apologies from Ramdev and Balkrishna, saying they were “not heartfelt” and “more of a lip service”. In the last hearing on April 16, the two were asked to appear today and demonstrate their intent to apologise.

In an ad published in a national Hindi daily, Patanjali has said it has utmost respect for the Supreme Court’s statue. “We tender our heartfelt apology for the mistakes committed in publishing ads and holding press conferences despite the assurances by our counsel. We are committed not to repeat this mistake,” the ad read.

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Responding to the media’s questions after the hearing last week, Ramdev had said, “I have said what I had to. I have full faith in the judiciary.”

Rejecting Ramdev and Balkrishna’s earlier apologies, the court had noted that the letters were sent to the media first. “Till the matter hit the court, the contemnors did not find it fit to send us the affidavits. They believe in publicity clearly,” Justice Hima Kohli had said.

Justice A Amanullah, also on the bench, had warned, “Tendering apology is not enough. You should suffer the consequences for violating the court’s order.”

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”. Patanjali also claimed that Coronil had certification from the World Health Organization, but the Indian Medical Association called this a “blatant lie”.

The face-off between the medical body and Patanjali escalated after a video of Ramdev, in which he was heard saying that allopathy was a “stupid and bankrupt science”, went viral. The IMA sent a legal notice to Ramdev and sought an apology. 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 last year, the Supreme Court warned Patanjali against such claims 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 after the court’s hearing.

The court then sought a reply from Patanjali on why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against it.

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 apologies that followed were rejected on April 10 after the Supreme Court that they were sent to the media first.

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