"How Do You Explain Your Inaction against Patanjali for Years?" Supreme Court Slams Uttarakhand Licensing Authority
Meera Emmanuel (Bar  and  Bench) 30 April 2024
The Supreme Court on Tuesday slammed the Uttarakhand State Licensing Authority (SLA) for its failure to take inaction against Patanjali Ayurved for years together.
 
A Bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said that the SLA appears to have chosen to act against Patanjali's misleading advertisements only after the top court passed strictures and made strong observations in that regard.
 
"Within 7-8 days you did all that was supposed to do. How do you explain inaction for years? Why violation of orders of superior authorities to conduct inspection. What is your stand to assist the court as counsel.
 
 Why for 6 years, everything was in limbo?" the Court asked.
 
The Court said that the SLA seems to have realised its powers only after the Court's rap.
 
The SLA had filed an affidavit earlier this week apologising for its earlier inaction and also stated that it has filed a criminal complaint against Patanjali Ayurved and its founders Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna, for violating the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act.
 
"Long and short is that when you want to move, you move like lightning! And when you don't want to you don't .. In three days flat, you have done all that you needed to do! But you should have done all that much earlier," said Justice Kohli.
 
Senior Advocate Dhruv Mehta, appearing for SLA, explained the details of the action taken and also told the Court that the authority has informed Central government's AYUSH Ministry about the suspension of certain Patanjali products.
 
"Now he (concerned authority) realises his power. In one day, he realises his power," Justice Amanaullah remarked.
 
The Court also came down upon the affidavit filed by the SLA saying it did not contain details of actions taken previously and that its claims of being vigilant were not backed up.
 
The Bench was also displeased to find that the affidavit had reproduced a paragraph from an earlier affidavit to state that the authority had been vigilant. The Court opined that this reflected the casual nature of the affidavit.
 
"You knew we had words to say about your officers, your predecessors. In the light of all that, can you say that you 'have been vigilant in your duties' (in para 21 of the affidavit)?" the Court asked.
 
Specifically on an officer of the SLA, the Court asked,
 
"He was holding this position for four years three months, what did he do during this time to justify his position in that house?"
 
Regarding the claims of being vigilant, the Court asked SLA officer Dr. Swastik Suresh whether any on site inspection was conducted.
 
"Did he conduct on site inspection? Because he is saying so in (the affidavit). Dr. Swastik Suresh, what action was done?" Justice Kohli asked.
 
"Where is your report, that you went and did the inspection. We are making last query to you, categorical," Justice Amanullah weighed in.
 
Eventually, after interacting with the officer, the Court said that it did not want to unnerve him.
 
Justice Amanullah noted the officer has made a categorical statement on affidavit that he conducted an inspection and reported his findings in a letter.
 
"Hai koi report? Aap gaye they site pe? (Is there a report? Did you go to the site?) Soch ke boliye...tasalli se Hindi mein bolie (Think and speak. No problem if you Speak in Hindi)," the Court persisted.
 
The Court clarified that the officer can be candid in his submissions, and that the Court would understand if he is being truthful. 
 
Eventually, the Court observed that it appeared that authorities took action after a delay and only after being pulled up by the Court.
 
"Correct us if we have misunderstood," the Bench added.
 
The Court eventually recorded the same in its order while granting permission to the authorities to file additional affidavits.
 
"It appears from affidavits that authorities got activated to take action in accordance of law only after Court order of April 10. Be that as it may, as requested by counsel, additional affidavits permitted to be filed within 10 days. List on May 14," the order said.
 
Before parting with the matter, the Court also made it clear that the licencing authority should be truthful and candid, if it wants any leeway from the Court.
 
"If you want sympathy and compassion, that is the only thing that will save you! To say 'I am too small a fry to take action' - that would also be honesty," Justice Amanullah said.
 
The Bench was hearing a plea filed by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) against an alleged smear campaign carried out by Patanjali and its founders Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna against the COVID-19 vaccination drive and modern medicine.
 
Notably, the Court today also took exception to an interview given recently by the IMA president which allegedly criticised the Court for "pointing fingers" at the association during the last hearing of the case.
 
In November 2023, the Supreme Court threatened to impose costs of 1 crore per false claim made in each advertisement which claimed that Patanjali products would cure diseases. The top court also directed Patanjali not to publish such false advertisements in the future.
 
After more objectionable ads were noticed, the Court imposed a temporary ban on such advertisements, and issued contempt of court notices to the Patanjali and Balkrishna.
 
On March 19, the Court directed Ramdev and Balkrishna to be personally present before it after they failed to file replies.
 
The Court also expressed that they were dissatisfied with the casual apology affidavits filed by Patanjali Ayurved as well as Ramdev and Balkrishna.
 
The top court had also pulled up the Uttarakhand government and the State licensing body for being "hand-in-glove" with errant licensing officers who failed to take action against Patanjali Ayurved.
 
During the last hearing, the Court also questioned the Central government over its failure to invoke the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945 against Patanjali for publishing misleading advertisements.
 
The Court further made it clear that the public apologies published by Patanjali should be visible, and not "microscopic."
 
Patanjali had then published prominent ads in newspapers apologising for its misleading claims and allegations. 
 
During the hearing today, the Court pointed out that though Patanjali was asked to file an original copy of its apology, it had only filed scanned copies of the same.
 
The Bench said that it had specifically ordered for originals of the apology ads to be filed.
 
"It was made clear that one original would be filed. There was no confusion. The original had to be filed. This was not what was required by you," the Court remarked.
 
"I will take out this whole page (of the newspaper containing Patanjali's apology). I'll do it myself," Senior Counsel Mukul Rohatgi said on behalf of Baba Ramdev.
 
The Court recorded the same in its order.
 
"He (Patanjali's counsel, Rohatgi) concedes that there has been some miscommunication of orders passed. (He) seeks one more opportunity to comply with April 23 order by filing each page of newspaper containing public apology in original. Registry is directed to accept it when filed," the Court ordered.
 
On a request by their counsel, the Court also granted Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna an exemption from personally appearing before the Court for the next date of hearing.
 
Senior Advocate Balbir Singh also appeared today, on behalf of Acharya Balkrishna.
 
The matter will be heard next on May 7, when other licensing authorities from States other than Uttarakhand are also expected to be heard.
 
Comments
rangarao.ds
2 months ago
Moth-eaten governance! White ants-infested! It's to be thrown out lock, stock and barrel.
nandakumarms
2 months ago
Not sure why Indian system of medicine is hounded like this almost on everyday basis as if there is no other case. Or milords and ML will not rest till Patanjali is completely finished? Really pathetic commentary!
adityag
2 months ago
I find it amusing that nobody has a problem when the MNCs break the rules. Sure, people will write a story or two, keep the outrage meter at 6 and then keep mum as though nothing ever happened. But when it's an Indian company outrage meter is cracked up to 11 and it is deeply imprinted in the recesses of our minds as if it's a parasite.
parimalshah1
2 months ago
As usual, most regulators sleep on the wheels. They are actually parasites living off the taxpayers' money. Their salaries should be forfeited for the number of years of inaction. Unless the penalty pinches the pocket, these people will take things very lightly.
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