“Facts are irrelevant. What matters is what the consumer believes.”
– Seth Godin
While the entire world is in the clutches of a pandemic crisis, many are using it to construct a business model. The Divya Pharmacy of Patanjali Ayurveda Limited is running in the same race. The medical fraternity all across the globe has meddled with the conundrum of developing a vaccine to curb the menace which the virus has spread. In the midst of this came Patanjali’s owners, Acharya Balakrishna and Baba Ramdev, with the claims of having found a possible cure for the virus.
The company defined its revolutionary product – ‘Coronil‘, as a medicinal kit made up of natural herbs and products which boost immunity, following the ancient Indian Science of Ayurveda. It was claimed that the kit was clinically tested and the company had acquired the required permissions. But the Ministry of AYUSH, which has the jurisdiction over the Ayurvedic medicine, stated that no licenses or certifications have been sought by Patanjali for a medicine that can cure the virus. Following which Baba Ramdev changed his stance and called the medicinal kit as an ‘Immunity Booster’, and not a cure for Covid-19. But now Patanjali Ayurveda Limited has landed itself into the hot waters of legal troubles.
DRUGS AND MAGIC REMEDIES (OBJECTIONABLE ADVERTISEMENT) ACT, 1954
Coronil was launched and advertised with a much-celebrated false claim of curing the virus. This stands in strict contradiction of Section 4 of the Act, the purpose of which is to prohibit “misleading advertisements” of a product that claim to possess a magical remedy for curing a disease. Initially, Patanjali Ayurveda publicly claimed to cure the virus through its medicinal kit. But the subsequent change of stance, by claiming it to be an immunity booster to help maintain the virus, evidently proves how they misled people in the first instance. ‘There is no such thing as bad publicity’ is the maxim that perfectly fits this situation. The company’s huge misleading claims stirred the nation and even caused some people to believe in the falsity of their claims. As it was correctly stated in the case of Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union of India that,
“Perusal of the advertisements of cures produces a great effect on patients who have tried treatment by medical men without success. Such patients resort to any and every drug that comes in their way.”
CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, 2019
Sec 2(28) of CPA defines ‘misleading advertisement’ as a situation when a product is falsely described through misleading guarantees by hiding the necessary information. Under the Advertising Standards Council of India, the cardinal rule is to secure truthfulness and honesty of representations and protect from false claims. Patanjali Ayurveda stands in absolute contravention of these provisions of law. There were no certifications acquired by the respective authorities, and without obtaining the same they indulged into unbridled publicity. It is not the case where they believed the veracity of their claims and were equally ignorant about the true position. This is proved by their immediate change of publicity jargon when they came under the radar of AYUSH Ministry.
An action can also be taken under Sec. 2(34) of the CPA which defines product liability. As the initial claims were that Coronil can cure the virus, many people resorted to buying the kits. As now the claims have weakened and the product seems to stand in deficiency of what was claimed, they can be booked under this provision.
INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860
Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balakrishna have been accused of committing the offence of cheating under Section 420 of IPC. The offence essentially includes cheating through the means of dishonest inducement and false representation, and such falsity was in the knowledge of the maker. There was a heavy endorsement of the medicinal kit coupled with the huge claims of having found a cure. This was an intentional inducement on the part of the owners of Patanjali Ayurveda by cheating people under the cover of selling medicines. It is important to consider the psychological conditions and anxiety levels of the population targeted. To play with the emotions and faith of many in the process of garnering fame and profits for oneself is not the right thing to do.
TRADEMARKS ACT, 1999
Patanjali Ayurveda has also caught itself into a trademark dispute. Arudra Engineering Private Limited, a company which manufactures chemicals, has claimed that ‘Coronil’ is a trademark owned by it since 1993 and through the recent launch of Coronil – the medical kit, Patanjali has infringed Sec. 29(4)(b) of TMA by the violation of their intellectual property. Eventually, an interim injunction has been initiated against Patanjali on the usage of the mark ‘Coronil’. Since the trademark was registered by Arudra, the right to its protection is the settled position of law and it cannot be infringed.
Every company owes certain responsibilities to the consumers it caters to. By the use of their entrenched position in the FMCG Industry, Patanjali Ayurveda has tried to induce the consumer base through the empty claims of medicine which they backed by a 100% guarantee. The breach that has been committed runs on so many levels. They have made a mockery of a pandemic situation because of which the world has come to an abrupt halt by using it as an opportunity to brand itself. This is a systematic abuse of the faith that people put in the brands and the products they make a part of their lifestyle. An advertisement clad with ill-motives of cashing profits was able to induce many people to buy the kit and see it for themselves.
In this panic-stricken atmosphere where people even resorted to ‘clap the virus away’, the inflated claims of a medicine that can cure the virus one hundred per cent was a ray of hope for many. Thus, the company shall be made to answer every breach of its responsibility. Consumers have a right to make an informed choice. Feeding lies to the people in testing times is not the way to go about.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mili Budhiraja is a student at the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi. She is interested in the areas of International Law and Constitutional Law.