SC’S STAND ON MISLEADING ADVERTISEMENTS ABOUT COVID-19 CURE
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, people are in a desperate attempt to find its cure to go back to leading a normal life. Taking advantage of the same many people, corporate, businesses, agencies etc. have claimed unlawfully to have a cure or treatment for this virus and have advertised the same on various platforms. The advertisements of high concern were that Homeopathy, Ayurveda, Naturopathy, etc. have treatment for COVID-19. The public might believe these advertisements to be accurate taking into consideration the good reputation and safety of these medicinal systems. To condemn such behavior of many agencies, the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) in consultation with the Government of India had released an advisory/ guidelines on 24th March 2020 for government authorities of center and state to take effective measures with regards to such matters and ensure punishment for those who make false claims. The advisory report states as follows:“Accordingly, in the exercise of the powers of Central Government, conferred under Section 33(P) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, it is hereby directed to all concerned ASUYH Regulatory Authorities in the States/Union Territories to stop and prevent publicity and advertisement of AYUSH-related claims for COVID-19 treatment in print, TV and electronic media and take necessary action against the persons/agencies involved in contravening the relevant legal provisions and the aforesaid guidelines of National Disaster Management Authority.”However, these guidelines were not well received by Advocate M.S.Vineeth and hence a PIL was filed in Kerala High Court, namely Advocate M.S.Vineeth v. The Secretary dated 21 August 2020. The PIL was challenging the guidelines to be inaccurate to the extent that they bar the practice and system of Homeopathic Medicine to cure Covid-19 since as per the petitioner the system has been helpful in preventing outbreaks. The Kerala High Court disposed of the petitioner’s PIL and held the guidelines issued by the Ministry of AYUSH to be accurate. The court held:“Doctors practicing in AYUSH medicines are not supposed to prescribe any medicines, stating that it is curative for COVID-19 disease. However, as per the advisory, there is nothing prohibiting the qualified medical AYUSH practitioners to prescribe immunity booster mixture or tablets, as suggested by the Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India. Medical practitioners in AYUSH can also prescribe the same, but only as immunity boosters.If any qualified doctor practicing AYUSH medicine, makes any advertisement or prescribes any drugs or medicines, as a cure for COVID-19 disease, except those specifically mentioned in Annexure-I advisory to Exhibit-P1 D.O. letter dated 6.3.2020, it is open for the respondents to take appropriate action under the provisions of the Disaster Management Act 2005, and the orders of the Governments, both Central as well as the State, issued from time-to-time.”Resulting from this judgment, Dr. AKB Sadbhavana Mission School of Homeo Pharmacy appealed against it in the Supreme Court of India. On 15th December 2020, the Supreme Court of India in the case of Dr. AKB Sadbhavana Mission School of Homeo Pharmacy v. The Secretary, Ministry of AYUSH & Ors. while upholding the observations made by Kerala HC regarding misleading advertisements for cure of Covid-19, differed on a point that “actions can be taken against Homeopathic Medical Practitioners” and held the same to be restrictive since the advisory dated 6th March, 2020 issued by Ministry of AYUSH already regulates the conduct of such practitioners.