The Supreme Court has refused to accept the unconditional apology of Baba Ramdev and Patanjali Managing Director (MD) Acharya Balakrishna over Patanjali Ayurved's alleged "misleading advertisements."

The duo appeared in person before the Bench of Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah.

During the hearing, Senior Advocate PS Patwalia appeared for the Petitioner; Senior Advocate Vipin Sanghi appeared for Balakrishna; Senior Advocate Balbir Singh appeared for Ramdev, and Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, along with Additional Solicitor General (ASG) K.M. Nataraj, appeared for the Union of India.

The Court noted that the Affidavit is not on record. "Where is the Affidavit? When did you file it? We did not have the benefit of it till last night," Justice Kholi asked.

Singh, on behalf of Ramdev, submitted, "At the outset, I am carrying the Affidavit."

The Court was dealing with a Writ Petition filed under Article 32 by the Indian Medical Association (IMA), whereby by an Order dated February 27, 2024, Patanjali was restrained from advertising or branding some of the products manufactured and marketed by it that are meant to address the ailments/diseases/conditions mentioned under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954 and the Rules. The Court had issued notice to Balakrishna and Ramdev to show cause as to why action should not be taken against him for contempt of court.

On March 19, the Court had directed Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balakrishna to appear before it on the next date for not replying to the show cause notice issued to them in contempt proceedings.

The Bench today expressed dismay over Patanjali's statement that its media wing was unaware of the Court's order to cease airing such advertisements.

"If this is indefensible, then your apology will not work. This is a gross violation of the undertaking given to the top court. You have to ensure that your undertaking, which is solemn, should have been adhered to. We cannot accept that the media department is not a stand alone in your offices; is it that it does not know what is happening in the court proceedings and proceedings of such a serious nature. Your apology is not persuading this Court really. To accept it, we think this is more of a lip service! ...Lapse by you (Balakrishna), by your company (Patanjali), and by the third proposed contemnor (Ramdev), who is the co-founder and promotor of the same brand. Conducting press conferences..You can't feign ignorance. Even today, your unconditional apology... You violated the solemn undertaking with impunity. All your advertisements are in the teeth of that Act... We are not willing to accept this apology, and this is perfunctory! What is the reason to accept your apology?" Justice Kohli remarked.

She added, "Their conduct in public domain is what they are responsible for, when they come out with medicines to people who consume it and that's across the country and across the globe because you are an exporter too. How should we assume that there is any reason for us to accept your apology?"

Senior Advocate Sanghi for Balakrishna responded, "About the publication, we are admitting there has been a lapse. We have said there has been a lapse in communication...We are apologetic about it."

"We can call you a lapse of folly, but we will hang on to that. Mr. Sanghi if that's all that you have to say, then we have read the Affidavit. We are not happy with your apology", Justice Kholi said.

Coming to the Second Contemnor, Baba Ramdev, the Court asked his counsel, "Where is your reply to the show cause notice? Why is it not on record? Do not pass it across the board. You had enough time, we gave you ample time."

"This is only for the.. we wanted to apologise first. At the outset, I am saying, the objective is that if the Court wants us to mend something, we are open," Singh submitted.

"No! No! That is a fraud. If the Court wants us to mend... your apology is rejected. If it had to be from the heart, you would say the Court wishes... You say 'if the court feels, etc.' ... We cannot look into your heart!," Justice Amanullah remarked.

Singh submitted, "We have realised that the mistake should not have been committed. The Supreme Court, the majesty of this Court can't be taken in this fashion."

To this, Justice Kholi said, "Not just the Supreme Court. Every Court in this country, when an Order is passed, has to be obeyed in letter and spirit unless altered or modified or somebody approaches the Court for doing that. You did none of it! For learning lessons, contempts should be taken to their logical conclusions," she added.

“You have to abide by undertaking given to Court and you have broken every barrier,” the Bench told the Counsel.

SG Mehta, appearing for the Union, submitted, "As an officer of the Court. What has happened should not have happened" and offered to help the parties find a solution to the whole issue. "The way in which the Affidavit or the Pleadings should have come, have not come.... My concern is the majesty of justice," he submitted.

To this, Justice Amanullah expressed, "I am very glad Mr. Mehta, after very long time I have heard a State counsel say, in law the position is the moment a contempt is issued, the State counsel becomes the prosecutor of the Court. These days the State counsels have forgotten the basics."

While posting the matter for further hearing on April 10, the Bench directed both Ramdev and Balakrishna to remain present before it on the next date. The Bench also granted a last opportunity to them to file their affidavits in the matter in one week.

Pertinently, on February 27, the Court had come down heavily on Patanjali Ayurveda conglomerate for persistently disseminating alleged misleading claims and advertisements targeting modern systems of medicine and restrained it from advertising or branding some of the products manufactured and marketed by it that were meant to address the ailments/diseases/conditions mentioned under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954 and the Rules. The Court had also expressed dissatisfaction with Patanjali Ayurved's ongoing promotion of such misleading information, despite giving an assurance in November 2023.

On the earlier occasion, the Court had orally told Senior Advocate P S Patwalia, who appeared for the Petitioner that it is focused on the cause and on any individual. Senior Advocate Sajan Poovayya had then requested that the part of the order where the Court says that the issue is confined to Patanjali be corrected to say that the matter is not confined to Patanjali. Justice Amanullah said that Patanjali's case will be used as a test case, something to begin with for the present and that the exercise will not be limited to Patanjali. Also, previously, the bench had also expressed its reluctance to turn the matter into a debate of "Allopathy vs. Ayurveda".

Cause Title: Indian Medical Association v. Union Of India [W.P.(C) No. 645/2022]