Magic Remedy = Jail Remedy

By the fag end of January 2020, the dreaded coronavirus (“COVID-19”) reared its head in full force. Consequently, social media platforms were abuzz with news of “miracle cures” to deal with this zoonotic virus. From inventing a vaccine that could prevent and fully cure the virus to drinking bleach, several “miracle” cures continue to be propagated.

Back home, the story is no better. From “miracle” cure for AIDS and Cancer to changing the gender of an unborn baby by injecting a medicine and beyond, the story gets more intriguing in a country with several races, faith and religious beliefs which precedes medical science.

The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954  was enacted to regulate and control advertising of drugs in India. It prohibits advertisements of drugs and remedies that claim to have magical properties, and makes it cognizable offence. The Act was enacted in the mid 50’s to address the rapid rise in advertising miracle cures for diseases (leading to permanent damage or fatalities across all ages.)

The Act prohibited advertising of any drug(s) and “magic” remedy (talisman, mantra, amulet or any other object claiming to influence body structure) which claim to prevent, cure or mitigate diseases in humans or animals. The original Act prohibited advertising for a list of 54 diseases and conditions including but not limited to miscarriage and conception in women, menstrual disorder, sexual issues, appendicitis, brain disease, nervous system, kidney and gall bladder stones, heart disease, leukoderma, paralysis, insanity, tuberculosis, deaf and dumb and other diseases and conditions. These diseases were included in a separate schedule contained the Act. The list in the schedule could be amended after consulting with Drugs Technical advisory Board, Ayurvedic and Unani practitioners, if deemed necessary by the Central government.

Punishment for violating the provisions of the Act attracted a maximum imprisonment of 6 months (with or without fine) for a first-time conviction. For repeat offenders, the imprisonment could go up to a maximum period of 1 year. Besides, provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) would be attracted.

The Act per se came under severe criticism – it was considered very outdated as the list of diseases in the schedule contained almost 14-15 diseases which were totally curable and diseases which were totally eradicated from the country – smallpox and TB to name a few.

The conviction rate under the Act was abysmal. A six-month imprisonment with or without fine hardly seemed to be a deterrent. The Act also did not consider newer diseases (post 1954) like AIDS which originated circa 1981-82.

In order to stay abreast with the changing times, technology and to plug loopholes and ineffective provisions of the Act, the government has proposed amendments to the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 for the first time since its enactment in 1954. The government released the draft amendment Bill on 3 rd February 2020 inviting comments and suggestions (within 45 days) to make the legislation stringent and more effective. The major provisions include criminalizing the offence of false claims of miracle cures with imprisonment of 2 years and fine up to Rs. 10 lakhs for first conviction and repeat offences and offenders to be imprisoned for up to 5 years and fine of Rs. 50 lakhs.

The draft Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) (Amendment) Bill, 2020 includes 78 diseases and conditions, in which false claims of cure will be considered an offence. Such false claims could be through means of communication including any audio visual publicity, representation, endorsement or pronouncement made by means of light, sound, smoke, gas, print, electronic media, internet or website , including any notice, circular, label, wrapper, invoice, banner, poster or any such other document. The amendment Bill, which is in its draft stages, will be effective if implemented in stringent manner. Implementation is the key to the success of this legislation. Will this amended Act be the magic cure tackle false claims of magic cures? Only time will tell.

Note: Please refer link below for draft of the draft Drugs and Magic Remedies(Objectionable Advertisements) (Amendment) Bill, 2020


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