High Court (India)

March 18, 2019

Delhi HC does not Permit Advertisements Disparaging Another Product as Bad and Unhealthy

Delhi High Court

An interim order restraining Puro Salts from publishing advertisements in print and electronic media disparaging Tata Salts has been passed by the Delhi High Court. The Delhi High Court has ruled that negative advertisements showing another product as bad and unhealthy cannot be permitted. Justice Pratibha Singh passed the order in a suit instituted by Tata Chemicals Ltd. which is aggrieved by advertisements by the respondent, Puro Wellness Pvt. Ltd.

According to Tata, Puro embarked on a "deliberate and consistent campaign" against Tata Salts by releasing three television commercials featuring a well-known actor with false propaganda, further carried via circulation of flyers/pamphlets containing objectionable content and online videos. The advertisement was claimed to spread the message that Tata Salt was harmful for health and not consumable. On the basis of the complaint made by the petitioner, the Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI) recommended that the respondent modify the advertisement, the petitioner stated.

But the respondent moved the Bombay High Court against the ASCI order without impleading Tata as a party, on grounds that it was not a member of the said council and therefore wasn’t bound to comply with its recommendations.

A bench of Justice Pratibha M Singh, referred to the SC decision in Union of India versus Cipla Limited and others and observed that the petitioner was not guilty of forum shopping.

"While an association like ISMA can generally prefer a suit to prevent denigration of ‘white salt’ as a class of products, the offending acts of the Defendant which initially commenced with the telecast of three offending commercials against white salt, expanding to a video, a pamphlet and a booklet specifically containing the Tata salt packaging, clearly affords the Plaintiff herein, which is the manufacturer and seller of TATA Salt a separate and distinct cause of action,” held the court. "The purpose is to clearly convince customers that white salt is dangerous for health. The said message is being conveyed by making references and allusions to TATA Salt. A comparison of white salt with poison is clearly meant to create panic amongst the consuming public and if allowed to be carried on unhindered, it can have a deleterious impact not just on the Plaintiff and its product, but also on customers, who could be forced to give up on the use of white salt, which is a basic ingredient in food cooked in almost every household in the country", the court proceeded to say.

The intention of the respondent was not to promote its product but call white salt in general and Tata Salt in particular dangerous as it was made in a chemical factory and bleached. "The TATA brand has earned an iconic status. TATA Salt was introduced by the Plaintiff and was recognised by the Government as one of the products meant to eliminate iodine deficiency. It was promoted as "Desh ka Namak Tata Namak" and has a large customer base. The swathe of population which has consumed and continues to consume a product such as TATA salt cannot be led to believe that they were consuming poison or a dangerous ingredient, without there being irrebuttable proof for the same. Upholding the respondent’s right to make such statements would mean that the regulatory authorities have turned a blind eye to poison being sold, which is also clearly unacceptable,” the court said.

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