From Covid Cure Claim To An Anonymous Letter: How Patanjali Case Unfolded

The court has rejected apologies by Ramdev and Balkrishna and said it will pass an order on April 16

From Covid Cure Claim To An Anonymous Letter: How Patanjali Case Unfolded

Ramdev's apology has been rejected and the court will pass an order on April 16

New Delhi:

"What about all the faceless people who have consumed these Patanjali medicines stated to cure diseases which cannot be cured?" These were the Supreme Court's strong remarks in its brutal takedown of Uttarakhand authorities for inaction against Haridwar-based Patanjali Ayurved, founded by Yoga guru Ramdev and his aide Balkrishna.

The court's remarks, which included a "post office" metaphor for state authorities and a "will rip you apart" warning, came as the bench of Justice Hima Kohli and Justice A Amanullah rejected apologies by Ramdev and Balkrishna and said it will pass an order on April 16. This comes after a nearly three-year fight of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) against misleading claims made by Ramdev and Patanjali.

Here's a look at how the case unfolded:

The Beginning: Coronil's Launch

In February 2021, just before the Covid's Delta wave struck, Ramdev launched Patanjali's Coronil, which he described as the "first evidence-based medicine for COVID-19". The launch was attended by then Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, also a doctor. The poster at the event claimed that Coronil holds a certificate of pharmaceutical product and is recognised by the WHO's Good Manufacturing Practices. WHO, however, clarified that it had not reviewed or certified any traditional medicine to treat or prevent COVID-19.

IMA said it was shocked to note the "blatant lie" of WHO certification for a "secret medicine" launched in presence of the Health Minister. The country "needs an explanation" from the minister, it said.

Months later, a video of Ramdev was viral, in which he was heard saying that allopathy was a "stupid and bankrupt science" that is "responsible for the deaths of lakhs of people". He said no modern medicine was curing Covid. The IMA responded by sending a legal notice to Ramdev and seeking an apology and withdrawal of statements. It put out a statement, appealing to then Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan to charge against the Yoga guru under the Epidemic Diseases Act. Under fire, Patanjali Yogpeeth responded that Ramdev was only reading out from a forwarded WhatsApp message and has no ill-will against modern science.

What Were Authorities Doing

According to a BBC report, Patanjali in December 2020 urged state authorities to change Coronil's licence from an "immunity booster" to one for "medicine for Covid-19". The next month, the company said the product got approval as a "supporting measure" against Covid.

The AYUSH Ministry and Uttarakhand state authorities had then confirmed to BBC that a new licence had been issued, but made clear that Coronil was "not a cure" for Covid. "The upgraded licence means it can be sold like zinc, vitamin C, multi-vitamins or any other supplemental medicines," said Dr YS Rawat, then director of Uttarakhand traditional medicine department and state licensing authority. "It [Coronil] is not a cure," he said.

The Centre has said in its reply to the Supreme Court that Patanjali had been told not to put out misleading advertisements till the matter is examined by the Ayush Ministry. It added that after a detailed interdisciplinary process, the State Licensing Authority was informed that Coronil tablet "may only be considered as supporting measure in Covid-19". It also said the Centre has taken proactive steps with regard to false claims for Covid cure.

The Case

In August 2022, the 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.

Also mentioning Ramdev's earlier remarks on modern medicine, the doctors' body said the "continuous, systematic, and unabated spread of misinformation" comes alongside Patanjali's efforts to make false and unfounded claims about curing certain diseases through the use of Patanjali products.

As per law, the Drugs and Other Magical Remedies Act that regulates magic pill claims, lays down a jail term and fine for misleading advertisements.

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, had then assured that "henceforth, there shall not be any violation of any of the laws, especially relating to advertisement and branding of products". He also assured the court that "no casual statements of claiming medicinal efficacy of any system of medicine will be released to the media in any form".

What Has Happened Now

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.

The court said, "Prima facie, this Court is of the opinion that the respondent no.5-Patanjali Ayurved Limited has violated the undertaking given by it and recorded in the order dated 21st November, 2023."

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 said the government was "sitting with its eyes shut".

In the next hearing, 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. On March 21, Balkrishna, who is the managing director of Patanjali, issued an unqualified apology.

The Takedown

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 observed that the ads are in the "teeth of law" and told them to be "ready for action".

"You should have made sure that the solemn undertaking should have been in letter and spirit. We can also say that we are sorry for not accepting it. Your apology is not persuading this court. It is more of a lip service," the Supreme Court said, rejecting their apology, and asked to file affidavits within a week.

This set of apologies was rejected yesterday after the Supreme Court after the court noted that they 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 sent it to the media first, till 7.30 pm yesterday it was not uploaded for us. They believe in publicity clearly," Justice Kohli said.

Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Patanjali founders, said he cannot speak for the registry and that the apologies had been served.

Justice Amanullah asked if the apology is "even heartfelt". "Tendering apology is not enough. You should suffer the consequences for violating the court's order. We do not want to be generous in this case," he said.