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Do Baba Ramdev’s statements attract criminal liability?

The Yoga Guru has been infamously in the news for dissing modern science and anti-Covid vaccines

Adeeti Singh 10 Jul 2021

coronilImage Courtesy:brandequity.economictimes.indiatimes.com

By claiming that his herbal concoction ‘Coronil’ is a cure for Covid-19, interestingly without any scientific data to corroborate his claim, Baba Ramdev has managed to upset many scientists and medical experts over the past few months.

Additionally, in a video circulated on social media, the Yogi allegedly criticised allopathy treatment and contentiously said, “Allopathy ek stupid aur diwaliya science hai, pehle chloroquine fail hogayi, phir remdesivir, phir anti-biotics fail hogaye, phir steroids inke fail hogaye, kal plasma therapy pe ban lag gaya aur fabiflu bhi fail hai..yeh kya tamasha ho raha hai? Laakhon logo ki maut allopathy ki davaiyaan khaane se hui hai”. (Allopathy is a stupid and bankrupt science, first chloroquine failed, then Remdesivir, then anti-biotics, steroids, plasma therapy was banned yesterday, and fabiflu failed too. Lakhs of people have died because of consuming allopathic medicines).

This statement by Ramdev did not go down well with the Indian Medical Association (IMA) that served a defamation notice on Ramdev for his disparaging remarks against allopathy and allopathic doctors, demanding an apology from him, failing which it said it will demand a compensation of Rs 1,000 crore. After a nudge from the Union Health Minister Dr. Harshvardhan, Ramdev was forced to retract his statement against allopathy and modern science, and also tendered an apology. However, he went on to tweet an open letter of “25 questions to IMA” on lines of treatment on not just Covid-19 but also diabetes, hypertension, spondylitis, etc. One question posed to the IMA was about whether allopathy can find a cure for rudeness and violent behaviour!

Ramdev has also been solely responsible for triggering people for his insensitive remarks against Covid-19 patients, mocking them for complaining about oxygen shortage. During one of his live yoga sessions in the beginning of May, The Quint reported him saying, “People are looking for cylinders outside while God has given you two cylinders right here inside you (referring to one’s lungs). Use them, fool! Two cylinders are here (pointing to his lungs), the two doctors are your legs, and two nurses are right here (pointing to his hands). Have some courage, they are just dying. There are no beds, no hospitals, not enough doctors, not enough medicines, no cremation grounds…a negative environment has been created everywhere.”

Ramkrishna Yadav alias Baba Ramdev, has also made objectional statements against vaccines saying that he did not feel the need to get inoculated since he had been practicing yoga-Ayurveda for decades, reported the Scroll.in. In another video from May, Ramdev claimed that 1,000 doctors died even after getting two doses of the vaccine. But in June, he decided against his own preaching and said that he will take the vaccine.

Yoga guru’s legal troubles

Ramdev’s statements are not only unverified and misleading, but attracts criminal liability. Multiple FIRs have been filed against him and Patanjali’s CEO Acharya Balkrishna, in the states of Bihar and Chhattisgarh, alleging that his comments are likely to cause prejudice to Covid-19 control, and dissuade patients to take allopathic treatment.

In Uttarakhand, the High Court is seized with the matter filed against Patanjali Ayurveda for making claims about Coronil vis-à-vis treatment of the deadly Covid-19 virus, in the absence of requisite permission from the Government. According to LiveLaw, the court has already issued a notice to the to the Central Government. On June 23, 2020, Patanjali had reportedly launched “Coronil and Swasari”, what it claims is the Ayurvedic cure for treating Covid, which they said has shown “100 per cent favourable results” during clinical trials on some affected patients.

But the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa and Homoeopathy), jumped in on the subject refraining Patanjali Ayurveda Limited to advertise/publicise such claims till the issue is duly examined. The Ministry had also clarified those facts of the claim and details of the stated scientific study are not known to it, and are uncorroborated. The company was also asked by the Ayush Ministry to provide at the earliest, details of the name and composition of the medicines being claimed for Covid treatment; site(s)/hospital(s), where the research study was conducted; protocol, sample size, Institutional Ethics Committee clearance, and results data of the studies

In June this year, Ramdev has approached the Supreme Court seeking clubbing of the multiple FIRs against him and praying for interim relief. He has been booked under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code and Disaster Management Act, 2005 for spreading misinformation. The Supreme Court has listed this matter (Swami Ramdev vs Union of India W.P Crl. No. 265 of 2021), on July 5 and has directed him “to file additional documents in the matter”. Chief Justice NV Ramana, Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy asked the yoga guru to produce video and transcripts of his statements on Allopathy cure for Covid, as per a LiveLaw report.

Is an apology enough?

The saffron robe clad Ramdev has amassed a lot of support and fan following including within the government over the years. As one of the most prominent faces of alternate medicines in India, his jibe at modern science and doctors has yet not gotten him into any trouble. Coronil, a traditional Indian medicine manufactured by Patanjali and launched in the presence of the Union Health Minister last year in June, was alleged to have been a cure for Covid-19.

Since it failed to scientifically substantiate its claim about Covid-19, the Central Government intervened to stop its marketing as an anti-Covid drug but allowed it to be sold as an “immunity booster”. As per a BBC report, on February 19 this year, Patanjali held another event in the presence of the health minister, at which claims were repeated that it could prevent and treat Covid-19.

Balkrishna told BBC, “It has treated and cured people”, while referring to the scientific trials, the results of which it says have been published in several peer-reviewed journals. It received AYUSH Ministry’s certification as ‘supporting measure’ for Covid-19 treatment in February. Patanjali’s statement read, “Coronil has received the Certificate of Pharmaceutical Product (CoPP) from the Ayush section of Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation as per the WHO certification scheme.” With some emerging rumours about WHO certification, the international body was forced to issue a statement clarifying their stand against approving any traditional medicine for Covid-19.

Despite the barrage of misinformation and unsolicited claims, Dr. Harshvardhan, who was the Union Health Minister at that time, thought its most appropriate to write him a letter asking him to withdraw all objectionable statements instead of prosecuting him. Is Ramdev above the law? Doesn’t law apply to everyone equally? An apology does not absolve an individual of legal liability, nor does it make the offence less punishable. Even as the medical community is fighting tooth and nail to contain the pandemic and misinformation, health authorities are not proactively taking a stand against the yoga guru.

According to an Indian Express report, the Maharashtra cyber police has arrested 342 people since the beginning of the pandemic last year for circulating misinformation, including in the form of social media posts, creating panic or peddling fake cures related to Covid-19. Self-proclaimed god man Ahmad Siddiqui who also called himself ‘Corona wale baba’ had put up a board outside his shop in Daliganj area, UP, claiming that he had a cure for the deadly virus. He was arrested by the Police in March, 2020 as per media sources. But Ramdev continues to enjoy immunity from arrests despite his scandalous and incorrect claims.

Brazen violations of the law

Some provisions under the Epidemics Act, Disaster Management Act, Indian Penal Code can be (and have been before some courts) easily invoked against Baba Ramdev. When last year, as discussed above, Patanjali had claimed that they have developed 100% cure for the Covid-19 through “Coronil and Swasari” medicines, the Ministry of Ayush had to refrain them for publicising the efficiency of this product. But why did it do so?

The answer lies in the April 21, 2020 directive, in which Ayush had imposed several conditions on the research for Covid-19 treatment using traditional means. As per these conditions, it was mandatory for the institution to apprise the Ministry of Ayush, the government of India about the research developments. An Ayush registered practioneer was also supposed to be a part of the research, but going by Patanjali’s declaration of finding a cure and Ayush’s intervention, it seems like Ramdev’s company missed a couple of steps.

Under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DMA), section 52 (Punishment for false claim) lays down that whoever knowingly makes a claim which he knows or has reason to believe to be false for obtaining any relief, assistance, repair, reconstruction or other benefits consequent to disaster from any officer of the Central Government, the State Government, the National Authority, the State Authority or the District Authority, shall, on conviction be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, and also with fine; 

Section 54: Punishment for false warning states: “Whoever makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic, shall on conviction, be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine;

And section 60 states (Cognizance of offences), No court shall take cognizance of an offence under this Act except on a complaint made by— 

(a) the National Authority, the State Authority, the Central Government, the State Government, the District Authority or any other authority or officer authorised in this behalf by that Authority or Government, as the case may be; or 

(b) any person who has given notice of not less than thirty days in the manner prescribed, of the alleged offence and his intention to make a complaint to the National Authority, the State Authority, the Central Government, the State Government, the District Authority or any other authority or officer authorised as aforesaid. 

In addition to these, section 3 of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897, states that any person disobeying any regulation or order made under this Act shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 188 of the IPC covers ‘Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant.’

All these provisions require prior sanction by the concerned public officer, state, centre, district or any other appropriate authority, making it the legal and moral responsibility of the State to initiate actions against Ramdev. He cannot take the defense under Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression), to push his anti-science agenda that can trigger a new level of public disorder. This is not an Ayurveda versus allopathy debate. It is about how the State decides to tackle false claims of thousands of doctors dying despite vaccine shots, or how allopathy has killed people!

Section 505(1) (b) of the Indian Penal Code, penalises people who make, publish or circulate any statement, rumour or report, with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public. Arguably Baba’s statements do fall under this section, making him liable for a criminal offence. The Supreme Court has accepted the higher moral responsibility of people with influence, who are supposed to be careful with the information they disseminate. In Amish Devgan vs Union of India (W.P Crl. No. 160 of 2020), the court said:

“Persons of influence, keeping in view their reach, impact and authority they yield on general public or the specific class to which they belong, owe a duty and have to be more responsible. They are expected to know and perceive the meaning conveyed by the words spoken or written, including the possible meaning that is likely to be conveyed. With experience and knowledge, they are expected to have a higher level of communication skills. It is reasonable to hold that they would be careful in using the words that convey their intent.”

Ramdev, a business tycoon

An upstart, so to speak, Ramdev helped launch Patanjali Ayurveda to initially sell herbal medicines, that eventually expanded as a huge business empire selling soaps, noodles, biscuits, diapers, vegetable oil, candles and even cow urine.

Prabir Purkayastha (engineer, science activist and President of Free Software Movement) explains his rise as someone who is not the first to have built an empire out of ‘babagiri’. “Many others have made religion a business, from Puttaparthi Saibaba to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Compare Sri Sri’s Rs. 50 crore annual revenue from his business to Ramdev’s Rs. 25,000 crore turnover from Patanjali Ayurveda, and we begin to see that the primary business of Ramdev is neither religion nor Yoga. It is leveraging his image as a ‘Yoga guru’ to become India’s latest billionaire”, he wrote for NewsClick.

Some people might even argue that Ramdev was one of the most televised Indian characters from hosting live yoga sessions with celebrities to being invited to the pro wrestling leagues and defeating Olympic medallists with his core strength. But Ramdev and Balkrishna preached much more than yoga and medicines. With Ramdev becoming an instant hit amongst the masses, his brand name helped Patanjali’s products to reach almost every household in the country. His rise as a yoga guru has been even more prominent after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s win in 2014. According to an investigative report done by Reuters, Baba Ramdev used to allegedly send his followers/supporters into the streets to campaign which ultimately helped propel Modi’s win.

Besides his exponential rise, this is about Ramdev’s slanderous attitude that is worthy of reiteration. This does not only demoralise the spirits of all health professionals, but also disrespects and degrades the efforts of all frontline workers who have been facing extraordinary circumstances since early last year.

Related:

What do Ramdev and Adityanath have in common?
Indian Medical Association seeks FIR against Ramdev
Covid-19: IMA slaps Rs 1,000 crore notice on Patanjali boss Ramdev

Do Baba Ramdev’s statements attract criminal liability?

The Yoga Guru has been infamously in the news for dissing modern science and anti-Covid vaccines

coronilImage Courtesy:brandequity.economictimes.indiatimes.com

By claiming that his herbal concoction ‘Coronil’ is a cure for Covid-19, interestingly without any scientific data to corroborate his claim, Baba Ramdev has managed to upset many scientists and medical experts over the past few months.

Additionally, in a video circulated on social media, the Yogi allegedly criticised allopathy treatment and contentiously said, “Allopathy ek stupid aur diwaliya science hai, pehle chloroquine fail hogayi, phir remdesivir, phir anti-biotics fail hogaye, phir steroids inke fail hogaye, kal plasma therapy pe ban lag gaya aur fabiflu bhi fail hai..yeh kya tamasha ho raha hai? Laakhon logo ki maut allopathy ki davaiyaan khaane se hui hai”. (Allopathy is a stupid and bankrupt science, first chloroquine failed, then Remdesivir, then anti-biotics, steroids, plasma therapy was banned yesterday, and fabiflu failed too. Lakhs of people have died because of consuming allopathic medicines).

This statement by Ramdev did not go down well with the Indian Medical Association (IMA) that served a defamation notice on Ramdev for his disparaging remarks against allopathy and allopathic doctors, demanding an apology from him, failing which it said it will demand a compensation of Rs 1,000 crore. After a nudge from the Union Health Minister Dr. Harshvardhan, Ramdev was forced to retract his statement against allopathy and modern science, and also tendered an apology. However, he went on to tweet an open letter of “25 questions to IMA” on lines of treatment on not just Covid-19 but also diabetes, hypertension, spondylitis, etc. One question posed to the IMA was about whether allopathy can find a cure for rudeness and violent behaviour!

Ramdev has also been solely responsible for triggering people for his insensitive remarks against Covid-19 patients, mocking them for complaining about oxygen shortage. During one of his live yoga sessions in the beginning of May, The Quint reported him saying, “People are looking for cylinders outside while God has given you two cylinders right here inside you (referring to one’s lungs). Use them, fool! Two cylinders are here (pointing to his lungs), the two doctors are your legs, and two nurses are right here (pointing to his hands). Have some courage, they are just dying. There are no beds, no hospitals, not enough doctors, not enough medicines, no cremation grounds…a negative environment has been created everywhere.”

Ramkrishna Yadav alias Baba Ramdev, has also made objectional statements against vaccines saying that he did not feel the need to get inoculated since he had been practicing yoga-Ayurveda for decades, reported the Scroll.in. In another video from May, Ramdev claimed that 1,000 doctors died even after getting two doses of the vaccine. But in June, he decided against his own preaching and said that he will take the vaccine.

Yoga guru’s legal troubles

Ramdev’s statements are not only unverified and misleading, but attracts criminal liability. Multiple FIRs have been filed against him and Patanjali’s CEO Acharya Balkrishna, in the states of Bihar and Chhattisgarh, alleging that his comments are likely to cause prejudice to Covid-19 control, and dissuade patients to take allopathic treatment.

In Uttarakhand, the High Court is seized with the matter filed against Patanjali Ayurveda for making claims about Coronil vis-à-vis treatment of the deadly Covid-19 virus, in the absence of requisite permission from the Government. According to LiveLaw, the court has already issued a notice to the to the Central Government. On June 23, 2020, Patanjali had reportedly launched “Coronil and Swasari”, what it claims is the Ayurvedic cure for treating Covid, which they said has shown “100 per cent favourable results” during clinical trials on some affected patients.

But the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa and Homoeopathy), jumped in on the subject refraining Patanjali Ayurveda Limited to advertise/publicise such claims till the issue is duly examined. The Ministry had also clarified those facts of the claim and details of the stated scientific study are not known to it, and are uncorroborated. The company was also asked by the Ayush Ministry to provide at the earliest, details of the name and composition of the medicines being claimed for Covid treatment; site(s)/hospital(s), where the research study was conducted; protocol, sample size, Institutional Ethics Committee clearance, and results data of the studies

In June this year, Ramdev has approached the Supreme Court seeking clubbing of the multiple FIRs against him and praying for interim relief. He has been booked under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code and Disaster Management Act, 2005 for spreading misinformation. The Supreme Court has listed this matter (Swami Ramdev vs Union of India W.P Crl. No. 265 of 2021), on July 5 and has directed him “to file additional documents in the matter”. Chief Justice NV Ramana, Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy asked the yoga guru to produce video and transcripts of his statements on Allopathy cure for Covid, as per a LiveLaw report.

Is an apology enough?

The saffron robe clad Ramdev has amassed a lot of support and fan following including within the government over the years. As one of the most prominent faces of alternate medicines in India, his jibe at modern science and doctors has yet not gotten him into any trouble. Coronil, a traditional Indian medicine manufactured by Patanjali and launched in the presence of the Union Health Minister last year in June, was alleged to have been a cure for Covid-19.

Since it failed to scientifically substantiate its claim about Covid-19, the Central Government intervened to stop its marketing as an anti-Covid drug but allowed it to be sold as an “immunity booster”. As per a BBC report, on February 19 this year, Patanjali held another event in the presence of the health minister, at which claims were repeated that it could prevent and treat Covid-19.

Balkrishna told BBC, “It has treated and cured people”, while referring to the scientific trials, the results of which it says have been published in several peer-reviewed journals. It received AYUSH Ministry’s certification as ‘supporting measure’ for Covid-19 treatment in February. Patanjali’s statement read, “Coronil has received the Certificate of Pharmaceutical Product (CoPP) from the Ayush section of Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation as per the WHO certification scheme.” With some emerging rumours about WHO certification, the international body was forced to issue a statement clarifying their stand against approving any traditional medicine for Covid-19.

Despite the barrage of misinformation and unsolicited claims, Dr. Harshvardhan, who was the Union Health Minister at that time, thought its most appropriate to write him a letter asking him to withdraw all objectionable statements instead of prosecuting him. Is Ramdev above the law? Doesn’t law apply to everyone equally? An apology does not absolve an individual of legal liability, nor does it make the offence less punishable. Even as the medical community is fighting tooth and nail to contain the pandemic and misinformation, health authorities are not proactively taking a stand against the yoga guru.

According to an Indian Express report, the Maharashtra cyber police has arrested 342 people since the beginning of the pandemic last year for circulating misinformation, including in the form of social media posts, creating panic or peddling fake cures related to Covid-19. Self-proclaimed god man Ahmad Siddiqui who also called himself ‘Corona wale baba’ had put up a board outside his shop in Daliganj area, UP, claiming that he had a cure for the deadly virus. He was arrested by the Police in March, 2020 as per media sources. But Ramdev continues to enjoy immunity from arrests despite his scandalous and incorrect claims.

Brazen violations of the law

Some provisions under the Epidemics Act, Disaster Management Act, Indian Penal Code can be (and have been before some courts) easily invoked against Baba Ramdev. When last year, as discussed above, Patanjali had claimed that they have developed 100% cure for the Covid-19 through “Coronil and Swasari” medicines, the Ministry of Ayush had to refrain them for publicising the efficiency of this product. But why did it do so?

The answer lies in the April 21, 2020 directive, in which Ayush had imposed several conditions on the research for Covid-19 treatment using traditional means. As per these conditions, it was mandatory for the institution to apprise the Ministry of Ayush, the government of India about the research developments. An Ayush registered practioneer was also supposed to be a part of the research, but going by Patanjali’s declaration of finding a cure and Ayush’s intervention, it seems like Ramdev’s company missed a couple of steps.

Under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DMA), section 52 (Punishment for false claim) lays down that whoever knowingly makes a claim which he knows or has reason to believe to be false for obtaining any relief, assistance, repair, reconstruction or other benefits consequent to disaster from any officer of the Central Government, the State Government, the National Authority, the State Authority or the District Authority, shall, on conviction be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, and also with fine; 

Section 54: Punishment for false warning states: “Whoever makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic, shall on conviction, be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine;

And section 60 states (Cognizance of offences), No court shall take cognizance of an offence under this Act except on a complaint made by— 

(a) the National Authority, the State Authority, the Central Government, the State Government, the District Authority or any other authority or officer authorised in this behalf by that Authority or Government, as the case may be; or 

(b) any person who has given notice of not less than thirty days in the manner prescribed, of the alleged offence and his intention to make a complaint to the National Authority, the State Authority, the Central Government, the State Government, the District Authority or any other authority or officer authorised as aforesaid. 

In addition to these, section 3 of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897, states that any person disobeying any regulation or order made under this Act shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 188 of the IPC covers ‘Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant.’

All these provisions require prior sanction by the concerned public officer, state, centre, district or any other appropriate authority, making it the legal and moral responsibility of the State to initiate actions against Ramdev. He cannot take the defense under Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression), to push his anti-science agenda that can trigger a new level of public disorder. This is not an Ayurveda versus allopathy debate. It is about how the State decides to tackle false claims of thousands of doctors dying despite vaccine shots, or how allopathy has killed people!

Section 505(1) (b) of the Indian Penal Code, penalises people who make, publish or circulate any statement, rumour or report, with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public. Arguably Baba’s statements do fall under this section, making him liable for a criminal offence. The Supreme Court has accepted the higher moral responsibility of people with influence, who are supposed to be careful with the information they disseminate. In Amish Devgan vs Union of India (W.P Crl. No. 160 of 2020), the court said:

“Persons of influence, keeping in view their reach, impact and authority they yield on general public or the specific class to which they belong, owe a duty and have to be more responsible. They are expected to know and perceive the meaning conveyed by the words spoken or written, including the possible meaning that is likely to be conveyed. With experience and knowledge, they are expected to have a higher level of communication skills. It is reasonable to hold that they would be careful in using the words that convey their intent.”

Ramdev, a business tycoon

An upstart, so to speak, Ramdev helped launch Patanjali Ayurveda to initially sell herbal medicines, that eventually expanded as a huge business empire selling soaps, noodles, biscuits, diapers, vegetable oil, candles and even cow urine.

Prabir Purkayastha (engineer, science activist and President of Free Software Movement) explains his rise as someone who is not the first to have built an empire out of ‘babagiri’. “Many others have made religion a business, from Puttaparthi Saibaba to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Compare Sri Sri’s Rs. 50 crore annual revenue from his business to Ramdev’s Rs. 25,000 crore turnover from Patanjali Ayurveda, and we begin to see that the primary business of Ramdev is neither religion nor Yoga. It is leveraging his image as a ‘Yoga guru’ to become India’s latest billionaire”, he wrote for NewsClick.

Some people might even argue that Ramdev was one of the most televised Indian characters from hosting live yoga sessions with celebrities to being invited to the pro wrestling leagues and defeating Olympic medallists with his core strength. But Ramdev and Balkrishna preached much more than yoga and medicines. With Ramdev becoming an instant hit amongst the masses, his brand name helped Patanjali’s products to reach almost every household in the country. His rise as a yoga guru has been even more prominent after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s win in 2014. According to an investigative report done by Reuters, Baba Ramdev used to allegedly send his followers/supporters into the streets to campaign which ultimately helped propel Modi’s win.

Besides his exponential rise, this is about Ramdev’s slanderous attitude that is worthy of reiteration. This does not only demoralise the spirits of all health professionals, but also disrespects and degrades the efforts of all frontline workers who have been facing extraordinary circumstances since early last year.

Related:

What do Ramdev and Adityanath have in common?
Indian Medical Association seeks FIR against Ramdev
Covid-19: IMA slaps Rs 1,000 crore notice on Patanjali boss Ramdev

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