Indian Supreme Court rejects Ramdev's apology in contempt hearing

Patanjali Ayurved has faced criticism over claims its products can help to treat diseases including cancer

Yoga guru Ramdev arrives for the contempt hearing a the Indian Supreme Court. AFP
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India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to accept an apology from yoga guru Ramdev during a contempt hearing.

The hearing stemmed from his company's promotion of ayurvedic medicine that it said could be used to treat diseases including cancer.

Mr Ramdev, who rose to fame in the early 2000s for promoting yoga, launched Patanjali Ayurved, a company selling ayurvedic or alternative medical products, in 2006.

The company sells items such as noodles and herbal toothpaste. It controls one of the richest and fastest growing business empires in the country, with an annual turnover of 450 billion rupees ($5.3 million), Mr Ramdev said.

But he has faced criticism from doctors and the courts for his purported criticism of modern medicine.

The court was hearing a petition filed in 2022 by the Indian Medical Association, the country’s senior medical body, against an advertisement from Patanjali Ayurved that attacked modern medicine and made claims about curing certain diseases.

The company published the half-page advertisement in newspapers in July 2022. It was titled: Misconceptions spread by allopathy: Save yourself and the country from the misconceptions spread by pharma and medical industry.

The IMA alleged the company disseminated misinformation and made exaggerated claims about the efficacy of its ayurvedic products. Mr Ramdev and Patanjali Ayurved co-founder Acharya Balakrishna on Tuesday apologised for the adverts, but the court deemed their apologies to be “lip service”.

“You should have made sure that the solemn undertaking should have been in letter and spirit,” a bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said. "We can also say that we are sorry for not accepting it. Your apology is not persuading this court. It is more lip service."

In November last year, the company assured the Supreme Court it would refrain from making any statements about the medical efficacy of its products. But it allegedly continued to issue misleading advertisements related to blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, arthritis and obesity.

The court in February blocked the company from publishing the adverts and ordered Mr Ramdev and Mr Balakrishna to be appear before the court on Tuesday.

“This is a clear case of perjury. We are not closing the doors on you, but we are telling you all that we have noted,” the judges said.

The court also criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for not taking action against the company.

Mr Ramdev is a fierce supporter of Mr Modi. The government also promotes ayurveda and has launched a ministry, Ayush, to promote ayurveda, naturopathy, homeopathy and yoga.

Ayush promoted unproven traditional medicine such as steam inhalation with mint or eucalyptus oil once a day as a preventive treatment against the Covid-19.

Mr Ramdev also faced crticisim for falsely claiming a tablet, Coronil, made by his company could be used to treat the disease.

Several states ruled by Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party purchased and distributed the remedy, with India's Health Minister attending a launch event.

Mr Ramdev’s company has received more than $46 million in discounts for land acquisitions in states controlled by the BJP since Mr Modi came to power in 2014, Reuters reported.

“We are wondering why the government chose to keep their eyes shut,” the judges said.

The Supreme Court asked Mr Ramdev and Mr Balkrishna to appear when the hearing continues on April 10.

Updated: April 02, 2024, 1:53 PM