The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked Patanjali Ayurved, a company co-founded by self-styled yoga guru Baba Ramdev, if its apology published in newspapers was as big and expensive as its usual “front page” advertisements for herbal drugs.

Patanjali, Ramdev and his associate Acharya Balkrishna are facing contempt action from the Supreme Court for publishing objectionable and misleading advertisements about their ayurvedic products.

They had even violated an undertaking given to the Supreme Court in November last year to stop these advertisements. The court has so far been unhappy with their affidavits expressing regret over their actions.

Redemption attempts

In the previous hearing, the three contemnors had promised to take steps to redeem themselves, indicating they would publicly apologise in the media. Appearing before a Bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for the trio, said the apology was published in 67 newspapers. “Tens of lakhs” were spent to convey their regret for misleading the public.

“But is your apology the same size as the advertisements you normally issue in newspapers? Did it not cost you ‘tens of lakhs’ to put front-page advertisements?” Justice Kohli asked Rohatgi.

The Bench said it did not want to see “blown-up” copies of the published apology.

“We want to see the newspaper in the original. Which page, where it was published, etc, We want to see,” Justice Amanullah told the senior lawyer.

The Bench gave Rohatgi time till April 30 to file the original papers.

Sudden omission

The court sought an explanation from the AYUSH Ministry for the sudden “omission” of Rule 170, which dealt with the power to take action against objectionable advertisements, from the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945.

The court said the government’s own expert body had recommended Rule 170, only for the Centre to inexplicably remove the regulation later on.

“Your own Minister of State assures in Parliament the need to protect consumers and initiate action against objectionable advertisements… then you go on to remove Rule 170. What weighed on you to do this?” Justice Kohli sought an explanation from the Centre.

Actually, the disarmament of Rule 170 was quoted by Patanjali as an excuse to continue with their advertisements. The company had found the remaining last against objectionable advertisements - Drugs and Magic Remedies Act of 1954 - “archaic”.

The court further impleaded the licensing authorities and drug controllers under AYUSH.

The Bench also did not spare the Indian Medical Association, the petitioner who had moved Supreme Court against Patanjali.

The court said it would look into the phenomenon of inflated bills and doctors allegedly prescribing over-priced medicine brands in cahoots with pharmaceutical companies. This portion of the case was scheduled to May 7 for hearing.