After indicating in July that it would take legal action against the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the country’s apex regulatory body for advertising, Patanjali Ayurved, founded by ‘Baba’ Ramdev and his deputy Balkrishna, has petitioned the high court in Mumbai.
On August 19, the Haridwar-based company filed a defamation suit and a notice of a motion seeking interim relief against ASCI. The suit and gave a notice of motion are before judge S J Kathawala.
The basis of the legal action, according to Patanjali Ayurved’s managing director, Balkrishna, was the series of notices they were getting from ASCI in recent months.
“They are a self-regulatory body, consisting of a group of members, mostly multinational companies (MNCs). What is the legal basis for their (ASCI) actions? We have received a barrage of notices from ASCI; our legal team is studying all of this. There was an order last year by the HC, where they (ASCI) were flayed for their highhandedness, despite them not being a regulator,” he said when contacted earlier.
Ramdev had reiterated a similar view at a press conference last month, saying this was a conspiracy by MNCs.
The order Ramdev and Balkrishna were referring to pertains to a verdict by judge G S Patel last year against ASCI in a matter filed by Teleshop Teleshopping.
In that order dated May 8, 2015, the judge had said ASCI could not arrogate judicial or quasi-judicial powers to itself in the absence of a statutory basis to do so and, therefore, could not restrict ads of the plaintiff.
Shweta Purandare, secretary-general, ASCI, declined to comment on the issue, saying the matter was in court.
A tussle between ASCI and Patanjali would in many respects determine the amount of influence the self-regulator can wield with advertisers in general, say experts.
While members are bound to listen to ASCI, the self-regulator has frequently faced resistance from non-members, who’ve challenged its authority to redress grievances.
ASCI has the legal backstop available to it in the case of television ads found violating its code – the ASCI Code is part of The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act. However, the body cannot do so in the case of any other category such as print, digital or outdoor ads.
The government, in fact, is contemplating empowering ASCI, based on recommendations of a parliamentary committee, set up to look into the proposed Consumer Protection Bill, 2016.
The proposed changes include making ASCI a partner of the Consumer Protection Authority, a nodal body, giving it the power to look into misleading ads across categories and segments. In the event advertisers don’t comply, the CPA will step in to take further action.