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“Corona ki dawai, Patanjali ne banai,” crowed the banners at a high-profile event held by Ramdev’s Patanjali in Delhi in February 2021. “Medicine for Corona, made by Patanjali.”
The banners loomed over a stage Ramdev shared with Harsh Vardhan and Nitin Gadkari, then union ministers for health and transport, respectively. The yoga guru and business tycoon was in the capital to relaunch his Coronil pill. Challenging the efficacy of allopathy, Ramdev claimed that peer-reviewed medical journals had published the necessary evidence on Coronil and the cloud of suspicion had now been cleared.
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Just a few months earlier, Patanjali had backtracked on similar claims, made at the first launch of Coronil in June 2020, after Uttarakhand’s Ayush department asserted that the product was licenced as an immunity booster and not a cure. The Maharashtra government banned Coronil and the Madras High Court slapped a on the firm. Yet, Coronil sales surged, journalists kept interviewing Ramdev about his miracle cure, and TV news kept frantically pitching for Rambaan and Sanjeevani packaged in a pill. Most of the media refused to fact-check Patanjali’s claims or even provide a disclaimer about Coronil not being a cure for Covid.
Then came the Coronil relaunch, with its own share of lies about it being a “cure” for Covid, despite the Uttarakhand Ayush department only granting it a licence as “supporting measure”. Though the union ministers at the function hawked yoga and ayurveda without saying a word on the Patanjali pill, their mere presence strengthened Ramdev’s pitch about a “research-based ayurvedic cure”.
Even the new licence was a curious change.
The relaunch in February last year.
Just days ahead of the relaunch, the state Ayush licensing authority had upgraded Coronil from an immunity booster to a “supporting measure”, despite no change in its formula and concerns raised by an interdisciplinary technical review committee led by former AIIMS pharmacology professor Dr SK Maulik.
This came after a letter to the state authority on January 14, 2021 – seeking an upgrade “without claiming cure” – by the union Ayush ministry’s deputy adviser Dr Chinta Srinivas Rao with the “approval of the Ayush secretary”.
The Maulik committee said that during the pill’s trials, the “administration of only placebo, without standard care, in one group raises ethical concerns” and that “group-wise analysis has not been presented”.
This was mentioned in the letter signed by Rao.
In spite of the concerns, the letter claimed, the Maulik committee had suggested that Coronil may be used as a supporting measure for Covid. How come? On the basis of the presentation made by Patanjali Research Foundation before the committee on December 17 and December 18 in 2020, the letter explained, and because the tablet contained ingredients such as ashwagandha and tulsi which were part of the national clinical protocol for Covid.
A similar letter was sent by Rao to Patanjali on January 7, 2021, informing that the company’s proposal for an upgrade in the Ayush licence was placed before the Maulik committee and it was “suggested” that Coronil “may be used as a supporting measure”. The Patanjali product was eventually approved on February 5, through a letter by then Uttarakhand Ayush licensing director Dr Yatendra Singh Rawat.
We issued a licence for supporting medicine based on the letter from the government of India even though the formula is the same as the one submitted to us one year earlier. Only the government of India can clarify the basis on which the licence was sought.
Dr Yatendra Singh Rawat, former Uttarakhand Ayush licensing director
Rawat, now retired, told Newslaundry, “We issued a licence for supporting medicine based on the letter from the government of India even though the formula is the same as the one submitted to us one year earlier. Only the government of India can clarify the basis on which the licence was sought. We checked the books before granting any licence. We saw the ingredients Patanjali used…and gave it a licence for an immunity booster.”
The letter signed by Rao, the Ayush ministry’s deputy adviser, to the licensing authority had scope for ambiguity. While it stated an approval for “supporting measure”, its subject was “about updating the licence of Coronil tablet from immunity booster to Covid medicine”.
Rao is now assistant director at the union women and child development ministry. When contacted for comment, he told Newslaundry. “You should contact the Ayush ministry about this. I am not there anymore. I wrote that letter on the order of the secretary of the ministry. I don’t remember anything else.”
Newslaundry tried contacting the Ayush secretary over phone and email but received no response.
Maulik, who chaired the technical committee on Coronil, has since August 2020 been an emeritus scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research, a body of medical experts that has consistently opposed Patanjali’s claims in the media and courts and is the largest nodal agency overseeing the medical campaign against Covid in India.
It is interesting that a scientist – linked to a body that denies dealing with Ayurvedic remedies – was part of a committee that suggested Coronil could be used as a supporting measure for Covid treatment. However, ICMR PRO Lokesh sharma said Maulik is entitled to his opinion as he is in an honorary position at the council.
Patanjali had cited a involving about a hundred young and healthy Covid patients with mild symptoms to support its claims on Coronil. However, experts had quickly pointed out the trial was too small to draw any substantial conclusions.
When Newslaundry reached out to Maulik, he initially denied that he was on any such committee. But when told about the Ayush department’s letter, he said, “It was not my decision. It was a collective decision. In a collective decision, I have to sign as chairman. It doesn’t mean I have taken that decision… I am in a meeting and cannot talk to you.”
An official in Uttarakhand's Ayush department told Newslaundry that Patanjali initially “tried to get a licence for medicine from us”. “When it didn’t pan out and we kept stalling it, they got a letter from the central government. They have connections to the top and can do anything. We followed the orders of the government of India and granted a licence for ‘supporting measure’,” the official added.
Newslaundry reached out to Ramdev’s PRO SK Tijarawala for comment but he did not respond. This report will be updated if we get a response to questions sent to him.
We have also emailed the Ayush ministry’s secretary seeking to understand on what grounds it had sent the request to Uttarakhand’s Ayush department. This report will be updated if we receive a response.
After Coronil’s first launch in June 2020, Newslaundry had Patanjali’s claims and found them to be false.
The BJP and Coronil
Days after Harsh Vardhan attended the Coronil relaunch in February 2021, the World Health Organization’s South Asia chapter tweeted that it had “not reviewed or certified the effectiveness of any traditional medicine for the treatment of COVID-19”.
The Indian Medical Association said that the false projection of an unscientific medicine, later rejected by the WHO, in the presence of India’s health minister was an insult to the country. The panel issued a list of questions, asking how Harshvardhan, being a “modern medical practitioner by qualification”, allowed such a “blatant lie” in the absence of research. It also expressed shock over Ramdev calling modern medicine as “medical terrorism” and the claim that Coronil was certified by the WHO.
After WHO’s statement, Balkrishna tweeted, “We want to clarify to avoid confusion that our WHO GMP compliant COPP certificate to Coronil is issued by DCGI, Government of India. WHO does not approve or disapprove of any drugs. Instead, it works for building a better and healthier future for people all over the world.”
The medical fraternity seemed to have united against the Patanjali founder’s comments against allopathy, the efficacy of Feviflu, Remdesivir and steroids, and other drugs used for Covid treatment.
But the BJP government in Haryana soon announced that one lakh Coronil kits would be distributed free to Covid patients in the state, and that half of the cost would be borne by the state government’s Covid relief fund. This was announced by Haryana health minister Anil Vij, shortly after he recovered from Covid in May.
Amid an unprecedented peak in Corona cases in April last year, search interest in Coronil remained high on Google for months, to Forbes.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear the Indian Medical Association’s petition seeking action against Ramdev for criticising allopathic medicine and carrying out a smear campaign against vaccines. The top court has issued notice to Ramdev and the centre seeking a reply.
“Ramdev popularised yoga but how can he criticise allopathic medicine? What is the guarantee that ayurvedic medicines perform better than allopathic medicines? Baba is accusing doctors, and other medical systems of hurting public health,” it observed.
In the face of such legal suits, Patanjali has tried to backtrack from at least Ramdev’s remarks against allopathy. In May last year, Balkrishna said it was not fair to target Ramdev when he had withdrawn his remarks. “As part of the conspiracy to convert the entire country into #Christianity, #Yoga and #Ayurveda are being maligned by targeting @yogrishiramdev jee. Countrymen, wake up now from the deep slumber otherwise the generations to come will not forgive you,” he later tweeted.
This is the third and final report in our NL Sena series, . Read the and parts.
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