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Despite SC intensifying its focus on misleading ads, amendment to curb fake ads by drug cos delayed since 2020

Apr 30,2024

As Supreme Court intensifies its focus on companies against misleading advertisements, amendment to strengthen the Drug and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 have been in stuck with the Union Health Ministry since February 2020, reported ToI.

In response to an RTI application seeking the status of the amendment, the ministry responded last month that the matter was still “pending”.

The Ministry had formed the committee through an order back on December 10, 2019. It included representatives from Ayush Ministry, Consumer Affairs department, Information and Broadcasting Ministry and a few state drug controllers. The draft amendment bill was made public for comments on February 3, 2020, just when Covid struck.

The committee that drafted the amendment bill had recommended the DMR(OA) (Amendment) Bill 2020 “in order to giving the sharper teeth (sic) and to keep pace with the changing time and technology”. The main changes proposed were to enhance punishment and to increase the number of conditions for which ads for drugs claiming to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent would be prohibited from 54 to 78. The penalty was to increase from “imprisonment which may extend to six months or with fine, or with both” for first conviction to “imprisonment which may extend to two years and fine up to ten lakh rupees”. For subsequent convictions, penalty under DMRA is “imprisonment which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both”. The amendment proposed to increase it to imprisonment up to five years and fine up to fifty lakh rupees.

All comments received were compiled by the CDSCO (Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation) and sent it to the ministry by the end of June 2020. A draft cabinet note was put up before the health minister in November 2020 and a slide presentation on the draft was made by the CDSCO on the request of the ministry. The next month, it was suggested that the draft be circulated among all states as they would be the ones to implement it. The file circulated some more till Covid put a stop to it.

It was next picked up in September 2022 when it was decided that a meeting ought to be held with the drug controller general of India on the matter. From the RTI reply recently, it appears that there has been no progress after that.

The DMRA 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”.

Unlike the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, DMRA brings within its ambit medicines of all systems including Ayurvedic drugs. This is why many of the complaints against Patanjali’s drugs were filed under DMRA as they claimed to cure/treat diseases listed under the DMRA. “Despite the parliament committee’s recommendation to enact a strong law to prevent misleading and illegal ads, it is clear from the file noting that I obtained through RTI, that there is no file movement since 2022. I complained to the Prime Minister’s office and even after direction from the PMO, they are sitting on it,” said Dr Babu, an ophthalmologist and RTI activist, who has filed several complaints against Patanjali ads for violating DMRA.

Source: Economic Times

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