Can't let public be taken for ride, says Supreme Court on misleading advertisements [23.4.2024]

"We can't let the public be taken for a ride," the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while asking the Centre and state licensing authorities to "activate" themselves to deal with misleading advertisements.

While questioning the Centre over an August 2023 letter by the Ministry of Ayush asking the licensing authorities not to initiate or take any action under rule 170 of Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945, the apex court also pulled up the Indian Medical Association (IMA) about the alleged unethical acts of its members in prescribing highly expensive medicines for valuable consideration.

A bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah, while hearing the case related to misleading advertisements by Patanjali Ayurved Ltd, said there are several other Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs) companies going that way and the Centre has to respond as to what it has done about this.

"We can't let the public be taken for a ride," the bench observed, adding, "If this (misleading advertisements) is happening, the Union of India needs to activate itself and so do the state licensing authorities".

"You can't just shrug your shoulders and say I have conveyed the complaint to the state authority and it is for them to do what they are doing," the bench said.

The bench told the IMA's counsel that while the association is pointing fingers at Patanjali, "the other four fingers are also pointing at you (IMA)".

"It is not going to be all just that there are FMCGs. There is you and your members who are prescribing medicines on the strength of recommendations made for which there is valuable consideration from what we understand, the bench said, adding, "If that is happening, why should not we turn the beam on you?"
The IMA's counsel said he would look into this issue.

The bench also sought to know from the Centre about a letter issued in August last year by the Ministry of Ayush to all the states/UTs licensing authority and drug controllers of Ayush.

"You have said that in excercise of powers conferred all states/UTs licensing authorities are hereby directed not to initiate/take any action under rule 170 of Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945," it said.

It referred to a statement by a minister of state in Parliament that there was ample ground to protect the consumers and steps have been taken to tackle advertisements of Ayush drugs which are misleading.

"What has weighed with you to do this that henceforth rule 170 will not be given effect to?" the bench asked, adding, "Can you do that? Is it not arbitrary and colourable exercise?".

It also asked the Centre what complaints they have received against other FMCG firms and action they have acted taken on them.

During the hearing, Justice Amanullah observed, "I will not take the name of the channel. It was flashing the news that this is what is done in the court today, and on the side, the advertisement was coming. What irony!"
The apex court is hearing a plea filed in 2022 by the IMA alleging a smear campaign against the Covid vaccination drive and modern systems of medicine.

During the hearing on Tuesday, the top court also took note of an intervention application seeking imposition of Rs 1,000 crore cost on the IMA for filing the petition.

"I have nothing to do with it. I have no idea," senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Yoga guru Ramdev and his aide Balkrishna, told the bench.

"We are very curious at the timing of the application," the bench said, adding that it would take up the application when the applicant is present before the court.

The bench has posted the matter for further hearing on April 30.

23 Apr 2024