Govt Defends Omission Of Rule Restricting Ayurveda Drug Ads

New Delhi: The Union government on Monday defended in the Supreme Court its August 2023 missive to states and Union territories asking authorities not to initiate action against any entity for violating Rule 170 of the Drugs & Cosmetics Rules, which dealt with controlling inappropriate advertisements of Ayurvedic, Siddha or Unani drugs.

Submitting its affidavit in connection with a contempt case against yoga guru and entrepreneur Ramdev and Patanjali’s managing director Balkrishna over misleading advertisements, the Centre maintained that the August 2023 letter was sent to states and UTs to avert confusion and unnecessary litigation.

“It is respectfully submitted that as the process of final gazette notification will take further time, in order to avoid confusion among the various State/UT SLAs (state licensing authorities) and to prevent avoidable litigations, Ministry of Ayush vide letter dated 29.08.2023 directed all state/UTs licensing authorities not to take any action under Rule 170 of the Drugs & Cosmetics Rules, 1945 as the final notification is under process,” the affidavit said a day ahead of the hearing in the top court.

Citing a plethora of petitions against the impugned provision in the high courts of Delhi, Bombay and Kerala, the Centre said that it stands by the decision to do away with Rule 170 and that actions for misleading advertisements could be rather considered under the Drugs & Magic Remedies Act.

A bench of justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah will on Tuesday take up the issues regarding regulatory framework to prevent misleading advertisements and unethical medical practices.

In a series of previous hearings on a petition moved by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) complaining against Ramdev’s contentious comments about modern medicine and allegedly misleading advertisements about Patanjali products, the Supreme Court had initiated contempt proceedings against the yoga guru and Balkrishna, berating Patanjali for spreading misinformation that could undermine public trust in the health care system.

On April 30, the court directed Ramdev and Balkrishna to submit copies of newspaper pages that show the actual size of their published apologies for misleading previous advertisements and a press conference that went against the court’s order, seeking to verify the sincerity and visibility of the unqualified apology issued by the two in the contempt case.

A day before the hearing in the court, Balkrishna also moved an application, seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against RV Asokan, IMA president, about an interview given to news agency PTI in the wake of the April 23 order of the top court broadening its judicial scrutiny into deceptive advertisements to include “alleged unethical practices” among doctors practising modern medicine.

In the interview, Asokan criticised the top court for its approach towards practitioners of modern medicine, asserting that scrutiny does not “behove the Supreme Court to take a broadside against the medical profession of the country,” especially considering the sacrifices made during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Balkrishna contended that Asokan’s statements are scandalous in nature and a clear attempt to interfere with the course of justice, requiring the court to take a judicial note of the episode.

During a previous hearing on April 23, the court had asked additional solicitor general KM Nataraj, appearing for the Centre, to submit an explanation regarding a recommendation made by the Ayurvedic Siddha and Unani Drugs Technical Advisory Board (ASUBTAB) for the omission of Rule 170 that dealt with controlling inappropriate advertisements and was previously brought into the central government notified amendment of the Drugs & Cosmetics Rules, 1945, in December 2018.

“On one hand, your minister says on the floor of the House that you will be taking effective steps against misleading ads. On the other hand, you are amending the regulation in this regard…Can you issue a rule in violation of a statute? Is it not arbitrary or a colourable exercise of power? Will it not amount to abetting something wrong?” The bench asked the Centre on the day, clarifying the proceedings were not limited to just one FMCG or a drug company and that the court was going “to look at the larger picture”.

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