Legal Remedies for Countering the Menace of False Consumer Complaints against Ayurvedic & Herbal Companies in India: Lawyers Advice
When the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 came into existence, manufacturers had conveyed that the provisions of this act might inspire the consumers to file false complaints and give them a chance to score money from the big manufacturers and sellers. Therefore to reject such false claims and avert the abuse of the law, a provision for the discharge of false and vexatious complaints was introduced in the act along with the penalty to be paid by the consumers. In the 1993 amendment, the fine for such complaints was increased to 10,000 Rupees.
But traders wanted to impose a higher penalty on the frivolous and vexatious complaints made against them, as these complaints affect their brand name and result in loss of their sales and revenue. In the case of Emmar MGF Land Ltd vs. Karnail Singh and Another (FA No. 342 of 2014 pronounced on July 25, 2014) false complaints made against the manufacturers, the Hon’ble Supreme Court imposed a heavy penalty of 5 lakh rupees for the gross abuse of law.
THE PROBLEM OF FALSE COMPLAINTS AGAINST AYURVEDIC MEDICINES
Many consumers these days are trying to get money from large scale producers through the means of compensation by filing false and frivolous complaints. These frivolous complaints are filed against Insurance Companies, financial institutions, and banks, hospitals, etc. But recently there has been an increase in the vexatious complaints in other fields such as Real estate, medicines, vaccines, etc. Especially in the time of the pandemic, the number of frivolous complaints against various ayurvedic and homeopathic medicines that have been discovered to cure COVID has been increased.
Section 2(c) of the Consumer Protection Act 1986, provides that complaint can be made whenever there has been a defect in the goods or deficiency in the service or there has been unfair trade practices or the manufacturer charges the excessive price on the goods. If the complaint lacks any of the following things then it can be considered as a false complaint. Recently the officer bearers of a social group COPS in Pune has filed a complaint to ban the sale of medicine Arsenicum album 30(Aa 30) and other drugs for curing the virus of COVID-19. They have mentioned in the complaint that the Supreme Court and High Court have dismissed the applications to explore any type of Ayurveda or homeopathy medicines to treat COVID. AYUSH ministry also wanted to take all the ayurvedic and homeopathic medicines only after a valid prescription from the doctor but the chemists under the Pune Municipal Corporation have been selling these medicines without any valid prescription. But the court held that the applicants have not consumed any of the medicines and as a result, they are not the victims. It was further held by the court that the applicants have wasted the time of the court in such a crucial time where the judiciary is trying so hard to conduct the proceedings to provide justice to various jail inmates and solving the urgent bail applications. Therefore the court has imposed the penalty of 10,000 Rupees on the applicants for false complaints against the distributors of the medicine Aa30. In this case, the four criteria which have been stated above are not satisfied to be classified as a valid complaint.
In another case of Dajeet Kaur v. Divya Upchar Sansthan, (FA No. 137 of 2019, pronounced on November 11, 2019) the complainant was suffering from cervical problems and as a result, she ordered Divya Kit consisting of ayurvedic and allopathic medicines for curing all her problems however she claimed that her health was deteriorated after consuming the ayurvedic medicine prescribed by them. The opponent party claimed that the claimant was prescribed with the Ayurvedic medicine but she abandoned the treatment and continued with the allopathic medicines as prescribed in the other hospital. Therefore it was held by the court that it was negligence on the part of the complainant to avoid the prescribed measure as directed by the OP and went ahead with the other treatment. It was further held that Ayurvedic is an ancient system of healing and was introduced in our country thousands of years ago hence the ayurvedic medicines under Divya Kit cannot be just condemned by raising frivolous assumptions.
The negligent act of the consumers could not act as a basis for filing the baseless complaints against the manufacturers or doctors for prescribing the ayurvedic medicines if they could not follow the proper instructions. This was provided in the case of Ashwini Chopra v. new Indian Campus Banquet & Garden and Ors. FAO 77 of 2017, pronounced on May 15 2015.
REGULATION UNDER AYUSH MINISTRY AND DRUGS AND COSMETICS ACT, 1940
The Ayurvedic and herbal medicine have been used in our country from generations to treat various diseases and wounds and are a most reliable way of medication to get better without any added chemicals (other than those which are mandatorily required ) and therefore, consumers should keep this in mind before charging the companies with any of false claims. In our country, the Ayush Ministry is responsible for the evaluation of various drugs and medicines produced for consumption by citizens. The guidelines for the issue of the license has been provided by Ayush department. Rule 158 (B) of the Drugs & Cosmetic Rules of 1945 issued by the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga, and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy, provides the guidelines for issue of license concerning Ayurveda, Siddha or Unani drugs, All the ayurvedic drugs are produced exclusively in accordance with the formula in their respective authoritative books. Hence all the Ayurvedic medicines are produced after the due procedure and evaluation and then the only sanction has been provided to the industries to go ahead with further manufacturing.
Under section 33EED of Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940 the Central Government has the power to prohibit the manufacturing of Ayurvedic and Unani drugs if the contents used by them are against the public interest. The point here is that Ayurvedic drugs are made available for human consumption after taking all possible precautions and if the consumer faces any kind of problem with such medicines, they can contact the respective manufacturers and settle their problem with them unless the problem is life-threatening.
LEGAL WAYS FOR COUNTERING THE PROBLEM
The first way to counter such a problem is to impose heavy penalties on the filing of such false complaints so that it could create a deterrent effect and the consumers may avoid filing such complaints.
The problem of the frivolous complaints by the consumers can be countered by various actions. There is a need to generate self-awareness among the consumers regarding the procedure involved in rigorous evaluation and regulation of medicines by several authorities so that the consumers can think a hundred times before filing the complaint.
The consumers need to check the contents of the medicines and only after that, they should proceed with the buying of the product. As mentioned above the consumers should take advantage of the grievances centre which is available 24 hours to solve their problems.
If so many regulations have been imposed on the manufacturing of the ayurvedic medicines, then there should be some duty of the consumer to follow the above-mentioned steps for a safe purchase and avoid any kind of claims which could jeopardize the reputation of well-established brands
Authored By: Adv. Anant Sharma & Bheeni Goyal