Ramesh ShankarWednesday, May 15, 2024, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

The recent order by the Supreme Court against Patanjali Ayurved, co-founded by yoga guru Ramdev, taking a serious view of misleading advertisements, has once again brought to focus the loopholes in the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act of 1954 (DMR Act). The apex court has prohibited Patanjali Ayurved from disseminating advertisements that claim to treat medical conditions such as BP, diabetes, fever, epilepsy, lupus, etc. The court has also restrained Patanjali from discrediting Allopathy in its campaigns, and from advertising products that claim to cure chronic conditions. Citing provisions in the DMR Act, the court remarked that Patanjali’s ads present its products to people as a permanent relief, which is “misleading” and “a violation of the law”.  The Patanjali incident has once again stirred the hornet’s nest as misleading advertisements and health claims by the Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani drug companies have been a major issue in the country for a long time now. Though the country had enacted the DMR Act to control misleading advertising of drugs as that may encourage self-medication by the largely illiterate people in the country, still a large number of gullible people have been falling prey to these misleading advertisements and health claims by some of the unscrupulous companies. In a country like India, where a large number of people were illiterate, such a law was the need of the hour to save them from the unscrupulous elements whose only intention was to make quick money.

Unfortunately, the DMR Act proved to be highly ineffective in checking misleading advertisements of drugs and magical remedies as there were several loopholes in the law. As the law was proved ineffective, the objectionable and unethical drug advertisements were on the rise in the country. Consequently, as there has always been a large constituency for magical cures in the country, millions of people have been duped by these companies. Naturally, people have not only lost money, but many suffered the adverse consequences of fake drugs and remedies. Even when the country was in the grip of Covid-19, there were reports of misleading ads and health claims by some companies regarding the Covid-19 cure which were not scientific evidence-based solutions. It is clear that the DMR Act has become obsolete as 14 of the total 54 diseases listed in the law are now curable, and newer diseases like AIDS are not in the list. Moreover, the DMR Act, which was framed in 1954 at a time when there were hardly any print and visual media existed, has not been subjected to effective amendments to make it up to date. Due to this, the state and central drug control departments have even admitted their limitations to take action against drug manufacturers and marketing sponsors who are using visual as well as print media for unethical promotion of drug products and clinical services with false and unsubstantiated claims.  It was under this background, the Union Health Ministry way back in 2020 came out with a draft amendment to make the law more stringent and deterrent. The amendment was initiated on the recommendation of a Parliamentary Standing Committee, whose report tabled in March 2018 stated that “it is the need of the hour to strictly monitor and regulate the misleading advertisements for promoting the sale of Ayush medicine”.  But, even after four years, the amendment is still gathering dust in the shelves of the Union Health Ministry.