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IMA president faces tough questions from SC over comments against apex court

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New Delhi: Refusing to accept his unconditional apology, the Supreme Court on Tuesday posed some tough question to Indian Medical Association (IMA) president R V Asokan, over his "damaging" statements against the apex court in an interview to PTI where he answered queries about Patanjali Ayurved Ltd's misleading advertisements case.

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"You cannot sit on a couch giving an interview to the press and lampooning the court," a bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah told Asokan, while making it clear that at this stage, the top court will not accept his affidavit tendering apology.

"We are the first one to uphold the freedom of speech, the right of free speech and right of thought but there are time when there has to be a self-restraint," Justice Kohli observed, adding, "We did not see it in your interview, that is the point." Asokan, who was present in the court, offered an unconditional apology to the bench and prayed for clemency.

"Your conduct is not something which we can condone so easily," the bench told him and asked him why he made the statements in a pending matter where the IMA is the petitioner.

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The bench said that with 45 years of experience in the profession and his role as the IMA president, he was expected to have more sense of responsibility while giving the interview.

"You can't vent your internal feeling in the press like this. That too, against an order of this court," Justice Amanullah said.

Terming his statements "very unfortunate," the bench said though he has unconditionally apologised, the other part was whether the court will accept such an apology after the "kind of damaging statements" he had made.

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It said the IMA was the one which dragged Patanjali Ayurved Ltd to the court claiming they were taking the whole world for a ride, they were misrepresenting and denigrating the allopathy.

"You are aware of the fact that we took whatever you said seriously enough to call the other side and make them explain and their apologies did not impress us, not once, not twice, more than three times, because we thought it was not coming from the heart. We have the same to say for your affidavit," the bench said.

"Just because we are indulgent does not mean that anyone can get away with saying anything," it observed, while saying the court was not at all happy with Asokan's affidavit.

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It said he was leading a team of members of IMA which according to him has 3.5 lakh doctors across the country.

"What kind of example is this voluntary association's president setting for the rest of his colleagues?" it said, adding, "And why you also did not give a public apology? Why did you wait till you had to come here?" "After all, we have been able to uphold the Constitution to the best of our ability," Justice Amanullah observed. He said the judges do not react to the amount of criticism personally they face for the orders.

"For the simple reason that personally, they don't have any ego. But when it comes to this institution, you have attacked the institution. Your comment was on the institution," Justice Amanullah said.

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"Personally, we are magnanimous, we don't take it otherwise. We can do that because we are entitled to take action. But we don't do that because we don't have any ego," he said.

The bench told senior advocate P S Patwalia, appearing for IMA, that at this stage, the court was not inclined to accept the affidavit of apology tendered by Asokan.

"We have taken a cue from what your lordships have observed. We need one chance, we will correct it," Patwalia said.

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The bench said, "We are not questioning his competence. We are not questioning any of his professional conduct. We are questioning something entirely different. He is a litigant before this court.

"Your intentions are shown only by your conduct. We don't have any mechanism to know what is going in in your heart and mind." The bench said it was not too sure about his affidavit and his intent at this moment and "we don't propose to accept it." "Probably too little too late," it observed, and posted the matter for further hearing in July. On May 7, the top court had termed as "very, very unacceptable" the statements made by Asokan in a recent interview to PTI.

Expressing displeasure over Asokan's comments a day before the top court was slated to the hear the matter, the bench had sought his response on an application filed by Patanjali Ayurved Ltd, which had urged the court to take judicial notice of the statements made by him.

In an interaction with PTI editors on April 29 for its programme '@4 Parliament Street,' the IMA president had said it was "unfortunate" that the Supreme Court criticised the association and also some of the practices of private doctors.

Asokan was replying to a query about the Supreme Court's observations during a hearing on April 23, when it had said while it was pointing one finger at Patanjali, the remaining four fingers were pointed towards IMA. The top court is hearing a plea filed in 2022 by the IMA alleging a smear campaign by Patanjali against the Covid vaccination drive and modern systems of medicine.

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