Will the Supreme Court Put the Brakes on Patanjali's Decade-long Misinformation Spree?
Court proceedings on 2nd April indicate that the Supreme Court (SC) may finally end Patanjali Ayurved’s (Patanjali’s) 10-year spree of misleading advertisements which have made unverified claims about its products while disparaging rivals in every business sector the home-grown multinational operates in. About time too!
 
Incensed at the ‘perfunctory’ apology submitted by Patanjali founders Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna, SC labelled it as 'lip service' and 'humbug'. Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah refused to close contempt proceedings against them. They now have until 10th April to submit a better affidavit of apology and must appear personally in court.
 
Did Patanjali's legal counsel underestimate the severity of SC’s hearings on 19th March and 21 November 2023, demanding Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna's personal presence, an end to misleading ads and the threat to impost a cost of Rs1 crore for every false claim about 'curing' diseases?
 
Or is there a pattern to their behaviour?
 
With a massive advertising budget, the group has controlled mainstream media narratives for over a decade. Patanjali Foods (formed when Ramdev took over listed, but bankrupt, Ruchi Soya and merged his large unlisted business with it) has a market-capitalisation of over Rs50,000 crore and its total income was Rs31,821.45 crore in 2022-23, although very little is known about its non-listed businesses. As this article demonstrates, there is a pattern of Patanjali ignoring judicial warnings and employing litigation as a tool.
 
 
When cornered, Patanjali blamed its media centre for failing to halt misleading ads, but the judges knew Ramdev held a press conference hours after the previous hearing and was fully aware of their order.
 
Ramdev's promotion of yoga and revitalisation of ayurvedic treatments have been acknowledged by all, including the courts. However, the company's rapid growth owes a great deal to its aggressive advertising campaigns which have consistently tested the boundaries of truth and legality across its businesses.
 
This case against Patanjali, filed by the Indian Medical Association (IMA), has sought directions to the Central government, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), and Central Consumer Protection Authority of India (CCPA) to act against advertisements promoting the AYUSH system whilst denigrating evidence-based medicine – particularly their campaign against COVID-19 vaccines. Why should anyone have to approach a court for the government to act? Precisely because it was doing nothing or had been silenced, like ASCI. 
 
Warnings to Patanjali began in August 2022 when both, the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court, asked the company to stop misleading people. Chief justice NV Ramana said, "What happened to Baba Ramdev? He can popularise his system but shouldn't criticise others. We respect him; he popularised yoga but mustn't criticise other systems. What is the guarantee his system will work? He cannot refuse the doctor system and must exercise restraint." But the yoga-guru and Patanjali mascot remained unconcerned.
 
 
Around the same time, the Delhi High Court objected to Patanjali's claim of a 'cure' for COVID-19.The enormity of the COVID pandemic and the continued mutations of the virus perhaps focused sharper attention to the impunity with which Patanjali has been making false and misleading claims and getting away with it.
 
But there was a time until 2016 when ASCI did the job of upholding complaints against Patanjali. Consider these.
 
Patanjali Kachi Ghani Mustard Oil: In 2016, its ads claimed that competitors sold adulterated mustard oil with neurotoxin-containing Hexane but failed to substantiate allegations. ASCI deemed this claim grossly misleading by exaggeration. The Solvent Extractors’ Association of India (SEA) complained to ASCI and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), seeking action. Patanjali claimed its ads were based on facts and research but did not present it to ASCI. In January 2018, FSSAI asked its central licensing authority to issue a show-cause notice Patanjali.
 
Patanjali Dugdhamrut: In April 2016, ASCI upheld complaints against the cattle-feed product Patanjali Dugdhamrut as the claims were unsubstantiated. The ads alleged that “other companies mix up 3 to 4% urea and other non-edible things in their cattle feed”; there were also references to rising infertility and butchering of cattle.
 
Patanjali DantKanti: The toothpaste brand claimed effectiveness against pyorrhoea, swelling and bleeding gums, yellowing teeth, sensitivity and bad breath. Claims were not substantiated. Ads made claims such as ‘Safed coat pehenke safed jhoot’, referring to rival ads depicting dentists promoting toothpaste benefits.
 
Patanjali Fruit Juice: Its ads claimed that rival brands sold ‘expensive juices containing less pulp’.
 
Soap and Court Orders: When Patanjali disparaged soap campaigns of multinational companies, they filed litigation, instead of relying on ASCI.
 
In 2017, Hindustan Unilever secured an injunction against Patanjali for disparaging its soap brands with aggressive claims such as "Filmstars ke chemical bhare sabun na lagao" for Lux; "Tears' badhaye fears" for Pears; and "Lifejoy na lao near" for Lifebuoy. The issue was the inability to substantiate these disparaging claims.
 
The same year, Reckitt Benckiser obtained an ‘ad interim injunction’ from the Delhi High Court against Patanjali’s ad disparaging its Dettol soap. Soon after, Dabur India Ltd got a restraining order against Patanjali from the same Court for disparaging its Chyawanprash brand.
 
By now, the number of complaints being upheld and reported in the media was rising to embarrassing levels. Other issues also cropped up, as Patanjali attracted greater public scrutiny.
 
Patanjali's Ghee reportedly failed a food safety test; it was accused of 'post-dating' products (affixing labels on products already in the market with a future manufacturing date) and a magistrate in Haridwar ordered Patanjali to pay  Rs11 lakh fine for releasing misleading ads and selling products manufactured by others with its labels.
 
Question in Parliament
In July 2016, a question was asked in Parliament as well (https://sansad.in/getFile/loksabhaquestions/annex/9/AU2077.pdf?source=pqals) Responding to a query, minister of state for information and broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Rathore, said that complaints had been received against 33 advertisements of Patanjali between April 2015 and July 2016. Further, 17 out of 21 advertisements complained against were found to have violated the ASCI code and six had issues about product packaging.
 
While ASCI is seen as a self-regulatory body, this is not entirely true. As Mr Rathore informed Lok Sabha in the same query, the ministry had ‘assigned the task of handling complaints’ received on its ‘Grievance Against Misleading Advertisements’ (GAMA) portal to ASCI. If advertisers do not comply with ASCI’s orders, it is referred to the ministry for taking appropriate action. This is important in the context of what happened next, in 2016.
 
Patanjali’s Offensive
 
Using its extensive media access, the company went on the offensive. Managing director (MD) Acharya Balkrishna alleged a conspiracy by multinationals to 'tarnish Patanjali's name'. It filed a defamation case against ASCI, obtaining an ex-parte stay; it also claimed that it was not a member of the advertising watchdog and, hence, unaccountable.
 
This stance is contrary to the minister's parliamentary reply. It questioned the timing of complaints, asking why none arose in its early years. The answer: Patanjali was established in 2006, gaining national presence and advertising muscle later. This issue emerged only in the past decade.
 
Interestingly, ASCI, the ministry of consumer affairs (MoCA) and even FSSAI remain silent. After IMA’s requests for directions to ASCI, it filed an affidavit mentioning sub-judice status. Effectively, the advertising watchdog has remained quiet for seven long years on Patanjali's misleading ads.
 
The SC hearings appear seem to have changed things. The New Indian Express reports that, on 5 February 2024, the prime minister's office (PMO) directed the AYUSH ministry to act appropriately against Patanjali for continuous violations of an Act dealing with misleading advertisements of AYUSH products. The company has repeatedly claimed that its medicines had ‘0% side effect and (are) 100% effective’.
 
Fortunately, SC appears resolute in uncovering the truth. On 2nd April, the Court questioned the AYUSH ministry on its silence about the efficacy of ayurvedic products in treating COVID. Justice Kohli also questioned the government on its failure to act against Patanjali’s disparaging assertions against modern medicine.
 
Undoubtedly, an SC ruling in the IMA case will reverberate across the product range where one group had evaded the consequences for their audacious claims.
Comments
makhaik
2 months ago
Baba Ramdev advertising permanent cures by using Ayurvedic medicines is best summed up in the question that famous satirist Surender Sharma posed for the Yoga Guru…

“Baba - Agar Yog see Roog door byway, tu dawai kyon banawey”

“Baba - If Yoga keeps diseases at bay, why are you making medicines”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4KlEicLO18

Surender Sharma adds a punchline that the Baba has not responded till date.
vaisloorkar
2 months ago
Patanjali rewrote the dynamics in the FMCG space. There are bound to be repercussions. Against the backdrop of the Pfizer COVID vaccine fiasco, Patanjali's sins are a minor misdemanor.

The main issue is that Patanjali has RW overtones. ??? ??? misleading ads ??. If one can get away with " Mind charge, Body charge" everything else is fair game. Patanjali is up against BIG Pharma, BIG FMCG. My sympathies lie with Patanjali
mailme.shantanudey
Replied to vaisloorkar comment 2 months ago
Naturally bhakts have a soft corner for this repeating offender, because he's the ATM of the Bharatiya Jumla Party
vaisloorkar
2 months ago
Patanjali rewrote the dynamics in the FMCG space. There are bound to be repercussions. Against the backdrop of the Pfizer COVID vaccine fiasco, Patanjali's sins are a minor misdemanor.

The main issue is that Patanjali has RW overtones. ??? ??? misleading ads ??. If one can get away with " Mind charge, Body charge" everything else is fair game. Patanjali is up against BIG Pharma, BIG FMCG. My sympathies lie with Patanjali
jayantkumaryadav123
2 months ago
IMA was established by Britishers to safeguard their interests in India. Isai missionary association still works as an agent for global pharma mafia, wants to eradicate ancient ayurveda, yoga. Illogical law of 1940 in association of a jehadi judge Amanullah IMA is targeting ramdev, patanjali and misleading citizens. Ayurveda yoga are proven in world.
kamalkumarv
Replied to jayantkumaryadav123 comment 2 months ago
"True. The skin creams advertise that their creams make one fairer, which is false. There are many other examples. Why Patanjali is singled out. We can guess the reasons behind the comments of SC Judges."
iaminprabhu
Replied to jayantkumaryadav123 comment 2 months ago
Ayurveda is GOOD but NOT in hands of such FALSE CLAIMING Acharya & Babas magic pills & solutions FOOLING COMMON PEOPLE for Billion Dollar BUSINESSES !
iaminprabhu
2 months ago
Blatant FALSEHOOD, Disparaging Others without Substantiated Proof VALIDATED by results peer reviewed & REPEAT OFFENDER of ASCI Code in many many cases,

HAS TO BE HEAVILY PENALISED & WRITTEN APOLOGY in every media has to be forced on thus BABA + ACHARYA by the Supreme Court (to set an example in Justice)
shreeisgr8
2 months ago
All companies are spreading different levels of False information to get business/profits. Someone should start series of all these companies, to make aware all citizens.
kamalkumarv
Replied to shreeisgr8 comment 2 months ago
True, there are many.
pankajpandya58
2 months ago
Dear Author,
Have you ever explored and revealed what malpractices some FMCG MNCs indulge in to? Almost none of them can come out clean. They are older than Patanjali and doing murky things since ages. How come you have never noticed these?
AKSharma
3 months ago
Shame , not a word against likes of Colgate for first disparaging salt and coal and later selling both in their toothpastes, against all toothbrush companies for fooling public first in the name of rounded bristles, at other times of sharp bristes, at times of even brisles and some other times of uneven bristles...not a word against a single MNC.
sucheta
Replied to AKSharma comment 3 months ago
Thanks for not misusing our comments space for motivated trolling... this article is about a specific organisation. If you google Moneylife you will find plenty of articles, consumer court judgments, etc against plenty of organizations that may or may not be on your wish list-- MNCs, domestic giants, banks, insurers, etc. Moreover, every column has one focus and cannot go all over the place. This is a request not to use this platform for digital bombardment - we track IPs.
AKSharma
Replied to sucheta comment 2 months ago
The threat is noted. Kudos.
AKSharma
Replied to AKSharma comment 2 months ago
And, it not the question of some wish list...as a customer, it's of what you see...all around you... and what you get ..to see here.
srinusv
3 months ago
Midleading Advertisements is just BS. What are all the advertisements of fmcg, health drinks etc.
The writer and judiciary are in the pockets of FMCG and Pharma mafia.
Vivek Shah
3 months ago
The book Godman to Tycoon released years back had exposed this guy but hardly anyone read and commented on the book.
sucheta
Replied to Vivek Shah comment 3 months ago
The book is caught up in litigation, hence not available to the public. They won against him in 2018 but he filed and appeal. It is still stuck - that is the way things work in India.
bhatiahv
3 months ago
The whole world knew how these FMGC & Pharma industries work. Interesting is singling out one.
sucheta
Replied to bhatiahv comment 3 months ago
After the whole effort at showing the track record, this is what you come up with?? Singling out? Did you read the article?
sinhapravin7
Replied to sucheta comment 3 months ago
One sided narrative. These pharma lobby have huge pockets
deepakbhatti
3 months ago
Thanks for not using the term 'Allopathy' anywhere in the write-up. This word was coined by and used by the practicioners of homeopathy as a derogatory term for what we know as the modern and scientific system of evidence based medicine.
sucheta
Replied to deepakbhatti comment 3 months ago
Wow. Thanks. Point taken. Will have it changed!
pallavoorsubramanian
3 months ago
It is well established how self styled yoga guru Baba Ramdev went all out to sell blatant lies with the blessings of all concerned about his products. Nestle was the first target where he failed to substantiate anything. His noodles are the worst you can get in the market. So also atta . All things have to end one day.
mailme.shantanudey
3 months ago
Dhongi Baba Ramdev could carry on this far only due to the indulgence of the Central Government, which turned a blind eye to all his misdeeds; in this case the central agencies like ED or CBI suddenly became blind. After Ramdev was the ATM of the Bharatiya Jumla Party, so let the common man suffer, die or be looted, as long as there's money it's honey for the ruling dispensation at the centre.
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