On Wednesday, “Doctor” RK Gupta who runs Neeraj Clinic for epilepsy treatment in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand was sentenced to five-year rigorous imprisonment along with a fine of Rs 21,000 by chief judicial magistrate Vivek Dwivedi in Dehradun.
He has been found guilty under section 224 (resistance or obstruction by a person to his lawful apprehension), section 420 (cheating) of IPC and section 7 of The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954. He built up a whole empire worth crores while cases piled up against him for years alleging use of Allopathic drugs in the name of Ayurvedic medicine, use of psychotropic and banned substances, gross negligence and fraud. This punishment is not in any way a solace to the lives of countless patients, adults, and children, who got fooled by his barrage of advertisements and high claims and are now suffering from the side-effects of his “treatment.”
The “Doctor” Declared A Quack
This is not the first time Gupta was arrested, and it was as early in 2000 when the Indian Medical Association declared him a quack.
As reported here, “in the year 2000 — a three-member delegation comprising of Dr. V.N. Sharma, Dr. S.P. Singh and Dr. J. Rao of Karnataka of Indian Medical Association (IMA) anti-quackery cell visited and checked the working of the so-called epilepsy expert. They declared Gupta a quack. It was found that he was using Ashoka emblem on his prescription pad without holding any government office from which he should be punished. According to the findings, he was not even a registered medical practitioner. ”
“The team of three doctors had found that Gupta had obtained his degree from an institute that had been closed down in 1978 for being unable to maintain the standards required. Gupta claims to have taken admission into the college that every year and passed out in 1985 having received the degree of B.A.M.S. He then went to Rishikesh and established Neeraj clinic.”
However, there wasn’t any effective action taken, and the issue got lost in bureaucracy and perhaps corruption. To circumvent the law, Gupta hired two registered doctors, Dr. B.M. Soni (Allopathic) and Dr. H.M. Tripathi (Ayurved) to write out prescriptions and to help swindle the patients.
Gupta Continues His Fraud
After laying low for a while, Gupta again started advertising heavily in all leading newspapers about his “steroid free ayurvedic cure for epilepsy” which he followed up with tall claims, “success stories” and even videos of “patients” recommending him on his website. His grandstanding included name dropping of prominent personalities (listed under VVIP appreciations on his website ) including a former governor of UP, few judges and leading doctors from reputable institutions. He even gave discounts if new patients brought cuttings of his advertisements.
The Indian Government, under Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, specifically prohibits advertisements about several diseases including epilepsy. When Neeraj Clinic’s blatant violation was observed, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) tried to take action against him in 2003, but he continued regardless of his print and media campaign.
Raid On Neeraj Clinic By The Drug Controller
In 2004, one NRI complained through the Indian High Commissioner in Canada about her experience at Neeraj Clinic and suspected use of a high quantity of narcotics in his “medicines.” They got suspicious when they saw the same drugs being sold to patients under different prices without any name or labels. The unfolding of events as reported by the Indian Express,
- “March 9, 2004: On complaint, the Drug Controller takes samples of medicines from Neeraj Clinic, sends them to a Kolkata lab •
- April 7, 2004: The report finds traces of phenobarbitone, phenytoin and phenobarb—all banned or controlled under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985
- April 16, 2004: The Drug Controller files a case with the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate against R K Gupta and 11 others •
- May 14, 2004: The Drug Controller moves the NDPS court to seek Gupta’s arrest and an immediate ban on his medical practice. Gupta is also booked for objectionable advertisement under the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954 •
- August 3, 2004: Armed with two trucks of PAC jawans, 21 sub-inspectors, seven inspectors and one woman inspector, the Drug Controller raids Neeraj Clinic, seizes 200 kg of medicine. Gupta flees • August 13/14: Gupta surrenders, sent to judicial custody for 12 days.”
This led to his arrest. “A Canadian woman, who was his patient, had complained about his medicines to the Union government which asked the state government to take action against him. SP (City) V P Singh told TNN the police had arrested him on August 3 (2004) but people of Rishikesh protested and an angry crowd managed to free him. Singh said a case had been registered against him for allegedly administering psychotropic substances to his patients. ”
Gupta remained in jail for 27 months before getting bail while the case was sub-judice. On Wednesday, 20th Dec 2017, the court sentenced him to five years of rigorous imprisonment and fourteen others were sentenced to one-year jail for rioting and helping Gupta flee from police custody.
Countless Lives Ruined
The self-proclaimed “Ayurvedacharya” gave locally sourced allopathic medicines mixed with narcotics at exorbitant prices to his patients. The lucky survived without much harm, but for many, it led to irreparable damage. In 2013, Supreme Court of India directed Neeraj Clinic to pay Rs 15 lakh in damages to a woman. This woman took her pre-pubescent son who suffered from occasional fits to Neeraj Clinic in 1993. The boy remained in Gupta’s care till 1996, and when his condition visibly deteriorated to a shocking degree, the parents ignored the vehement and repeated assurances by Gupta and took him to AIIMS where the doctor told them that the child now has no hope of living a normal life. The case went to National Consumer Commission first, and it was found that small white tablets Gupta prescribed were “Selgin” — an allopathic medicine not meant for children. Allegations that he was passing off allopathic medicines as ayurvedic were subsequently established by tests. Other troubled patients of Gupta from all over the country soon started pouring in with their own similar stories.
Need For Better Regulatory Mechanisms
- How can a doctor declared a quack in the year 2000 still have a lucrative practice, an up-to-date website and positive reviews on Google in 2017?
- How, after years of defrauding patients, toying with lives of children and adults, and charging exorbitant prices, is a fine of Rs 21000 enough?
- Who is responsible? Who is accountable?
- Why isn’t there any strong and independent regulatory bodies on the lines of developed countries?
- Why is our health budget still languishing at less than 2% of our national GDP when the world on average is spending 5-6% of their GDP on health?
Indian citizens still face one of the highest out-of-pocket expenses related to heath in the whole world and the misleading ads by devious and dubious “doctors” in newspapers, magazines and on TV play on the low levels of literacy and awareness creating a hell-like situation for normal people. After 70 years of independence, this is an absolute disgrace.
The Disease Epilepsy: A Short Note
Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders and has no age, racial, social or geographical boundaries, but in less developed countries it carries a social stigma which can be seen in our society as well. Up to 5% of people in the world may have at least one seizure in their lives. Cases from a historical point of view include famous personalities like Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Lenin, Socrates, Alfred Nobel, etc. At any one point in time, 50 million people have epilepsy. In up to 70% of people, epilepsy responds to treatment, but in developing countries, three-fourths of people with epilepsy may not receive the treatment they need.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), “Epilepsy is also one of the oldest conditions known to humanity. It is characterized by a tendency to recurrent seizures and is defined by two or more unprovoked seizures may vary from the briefest lapses of attention or muscle jerks to severe and prolonged convulsions. They may also vary in frequency, from less than one a year to several per day”.