Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 (DMR&OA) and its Rules

Context : On February 27, the Supreme Court restrained Patanjali Ayurved from discrediting allopathy in its campaigns, and from advertising products that claim to cure chronic conditions. Patanjali’s ads present its products to people as a ‘permanent relief’, which is “misleading” and “a violation of the law”, the Bench remarked, citing provisions of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 (DMR&OA) and its Rules. The Bench also issued a contempt notice against Patanjali Ayurved (co-founded by yoga guru Baba Ramdev) and Managing Director Acharya Balkrishna for failing to adhere to directions passed last November.

What does the law say

  • The DMR&OA regulates false medical advertisements in India.
  • People or entities can be sentenced up to six months imprisonment, and/or a fine for the first offence. The CPA also penalises misleading advertisements and carries a sentence that can extend to two years.
  • Section 3 of the DMR&OA prohibits ads for the “diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of any disease, disorder or condition specified in the Schedule”. The Schedule includes “diabetes”, “heart diseases”, “glaucoma” and 51 other diseases.
  • Section 4 prohibits any “misleading advertisement”, which “directly or indirectly gives a false impression regarding the true character of the drug”, “makes a false claim for the drug”, or “is otherwise false or misleading in any material particular.

Limitations in the law

  • The DMR & OA is an imperfect law, suggest medical practitioners and experts. These limitations allow companies like Patanjali to go unscathed despite repeated offences.
  • Convictions under the Magic Remedies Act are few and far between. In 2017, the Ministry of AYUSH signed a memorandum of understanding with the Advertising Standards Council of India to identify illegal and misleading advertisements and agreed to bring cases to the notice of the State Regulatory Authorities. Between August 2018 and June 2021, the Ministry found 14,876 instances of misleading advertisements of Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Homoeopathy drugs, which were forwarded to State regulatory agencies, the Ministry said in the Lok Sabha. It is unclear how many were investigated.

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