In a suit filed by Puro Wellness Private Limited against the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the Bombay High Court vide an ex-parte order dated May 4, 2018 restrained ASCI from disallowing television commercials of Puro from going on air [Read order here].
The suit was filed against certain decisions filed by the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) of ASCI in respect of three television commercials issued by Puro in respect of their product sold as ‘PURO Healthy Salt’, which according to the Plaintiff is an unrefined Himalayan pink rock salt i.e. an edible mineral salt known since ancient times as Saindhava Lavana.
Incidentally, these TV commercials feature Bollywood superstar Anil Kapoor, who is seen promoting the pink-coloured salt manufactured by Puro Wellness Private Limited, a start-up (a DIPP accredited start-up under start-up India initiative) recommended by the Science and Technology Park of the Central Government.
Puro’s primary objection was with regard to ASCI’s ability to entertain and dispose off any complaint against Puro since Puro is not a member of ASCI.
Justice Kathawalla did not deal with the merits of the allegations in the complaints received by ASCI from competitors of Puro since the allegations of disparagement and challenges to product claims by competitors being salt manufactured, were already a subject matter of the suit instituted in the Ahmedabad City Civil Court by the Indian Salt Manufacturers Association (ISMA) in which ISMA sought to represent all salt manufacturers including the complaints filed before ASCI. The City Civil Court had granted an ex-parte order dated March 15, 2018 in favour of ISMA against Puro, which was later quashed and set aside by the Gujarat High Court in an appeal filed by Puro. Justice Kathawalla observed that “The Code for Self-Regulation of Advertising content in India” of ASCI states that the “The CCC does not look into claims which are already the subject-matter of proceedings before any Court in India and the disclosure of this information to ASCI is required from the parties involved in the complaint process”. Therefore, ASCI should not have entertained any claim which overlapped with the claims made by ISMA in its suit instituted before the Ahmedabad City Civil Court.
Having considered the submissions, Justice Kathawalla said, “This Court has repeatedly observed that the defendant (ASCI) in the garb of acting as a voluntary self-regulatory Council cannot act as a statutory regulator and cannot arrogate to itself the powers of restricting/restraining or causing the restriction/restraint of any commercial advertisements belonging to a party who is not a member of the ASCI. Prima facie, I agree with the submissions made on behalf of the Plaintiff (Start-Up Firm) that since it is not a member of the ASCI, there exists no legal relationship between the firm and the Council and it cannot exercise its jurisdiction over the firm whether directly or indirectly in the garb of regulating its own members.”
“The firm has made out a strong prima facie case in its favour. The inability of the firm to telecast and communicate the television commercials and continue with its claims with regard to the product of the firm in light of the Impugned Decisions is likely to cause irreparable harm, injury and damage to the said firm,” Justice Kathawalla observed. “It is in these circumstances, that the firm deserves protection through an ad interim order.
Justice Kathawalla had passed a similar order in the matter of M/s. Teleshop Teleshopping v/s The Advertising Standards Council of India & another in the year 2014.
Image source: here