As countries scuffle with the global pandemic, pseudoscientific Ayurvedic solutions mislead public attention. One of them is Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali which has recently launched the Corona Kit. It claims to cure COVID-19 in 7 days. But, the Ayush Ministry did not approve of it. It directed Patanjali to stop advertising such cures that were not authenticated.
During this pandemic, jittery patients are eager to get a cure for Corona. These claims divert their attention the most. Aren’t such false claims diverting public faith towards pseudoscientific treatments? Aren’t such claims daunting when it comes to public health?
Patanjali’s Coronil: A Brief Background
This is not the first time that YOG GURU has developed a miraculous drug for curing people’s maladies. However, miracles like these couldn’t get a clean chit from authorities. In December 2016, Patanjali was fined Rs. 11 Lakhs for misleading advertisements. The ASCI had pulled up Patanjali for misleading ads. These were for honey, jam, and mustard oil, which were substandard. It is surprising that even after this, public trust remains unruffled.
After a dubious past, Patanjali has now launched its Corona Kit. It is clinically tested (after CTRI approval) and is an evidence-based drug. Uttarakhand authorities had licensed Patanjali for immunity tablets and not for COVID-19. Moreover, there had been previous AYUSH orders for stopping advertisements for Corona cures. Another notification of the Ministry was for following the protocol. Also, apprising the Ministry of research development was also mentioned. Yet, Patanjali hadn’t mentioned the results before the launch of the miraculous elixir.
Legal Roadway against Patanjali’s Trust Erosion Drive
Such pseudoscientific cures come under the ambit of Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954. The unverified claims of Patanjali come under Section 4, punishment against misleading advertisements. Rule 170 of the Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 2018 also forbids the advertising of AYUSH drugs. Especially for therapeutic purposes. Patanjali has already launched and advertised it via a press conference in Haridwar. Moreover, previous orders from the AYUSH Ministry had already forbidden such advertising.
Other legal paths against such misleading advertisements also exist. Some of them are-
- Section 21 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 granting power to grant directions.
- Rule 7 of Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 preventing advertisements suffering from irregularities.
- Section 6 of the Cable Television Network Regulation Act, 1995 prohibiting advertisements. The prohibition was for advertisements not adhering to the Code.
Eroding public trust comes with a cost. A Criminal Complaint has also been filed against Baba Ramdev and Patanjali’s MD. The complaint was filed because Patanjali was putting people’s health at stake. The complainant, Tamanna Hashmi has levelled the charge of cheating. Other charges levelled were criminal conspiracy and spreading dangerous diseases. Maharashtra Government has also banned the sale of Unapproved mystical drug Coronil.
Intermediary Liability against Misleading Advertisements
The accountability- responsibility threshold increases for intermediaries. The intermediaries can attract greater attention during the lockdown. This is because no other platform is accessible. The Intermediary guidelines, 2011 was a rescue measure. This was brought in to prevent the intermediaries from taking up the safe harbour veil. However, more proactive steps are also required.
Self-censorship rather than the take-down approach is more relevant. An example of this is the Information Trust Alliance by Facebook and Google. One can also refer to the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Diseases Act.
Another rescue comes in the form of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. It has new guidelines for the e-commerce sector. The Act has provisions for holding manufacturers and endorsers accountable for misleading consumers. The only exception is if it is in the ordinary course of business.
International Steps in Curbing Misleading Advertisements
The ICAS, EASA, and CONARED had taken up a joint statement. The joint statement was against false and misleading advertisements. The ASA (UKs self-regulatory system) has issued guidance on responsible advertising.
The new fast track reporting form launched in the UK has worked hard to contact brands and remove them. They have also launched an online service to combat COVID 19 fake ads. Intermediaries like- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube have also taken up measures to block misleading ads.
Major trends of fraud during COVID has also shifted consumer behavioural patterns. More than 22,000 consumer complaints are lying with FTC in the USA. Japan’s FSA and NPA have started conducting joint investigations. This will entrap illegal lenders. Such steps can curb misleading advertisements saving public health and genuine businesses’ plight.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Misleading advertising is on a hike due to consumer demands. Rising misuse of public trust has also worsened the situation. Patanjali’s Coronil claims have eroded public trust and put their health at stake. Emotional and pseudoscientific appeals by YOGA Guru keeps them relaxed. Even so, it threatens their health more. The legal framework can help, provided some consumer awareness online campaigns operate.
Enforcement mechanisms can protect them from falling prey to such false claims. Some of the immediate steps are as follows:
1. Raising Consumer Awareness: Apprising Consumers of false claims through online campaigning can work wonders.
2. Establishing Dialogue with Businesses: Sharing information with businesses can make them aware of possible fraud.
3. International Co-operation and Sharing Experiences: The OECD Global Recalls Portal has a pool of international measures against such advertisements. These can help nations choose amongst the best.
4. Self-Responsibility by Intermediaries: Self-responsibility measures by intermediaries can help getting rid of misleading ads. These measures can be blocking, take-down measures, and censoring.
With such plausible mechanisms, the Government can abate misleading ads related to COVID-19.
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