NEW DELHI: A recent statement by Minister for Consumer Affairs Ram Vilas Paswan that celebrity stars should also be responsible for the products they endorse raises some vital questions.

The latest provocation for this is probably the controversy regarding the captain of the Indian cricket team MS Dhoni being tagged online by buyers of houses of Amrapali group as the builder had failed to deliver them on time. This complaint, though, as a programme by Ravish Kumar on NDTV showed later was common with all builders in Noida and Greater Noida.

However Dhoni immediately dissociated his name from the Amrapali brand to protect his image but the issue has once again revived the controversy about celebrity endorsements after a gap of nearly one year.

Last year, when some samples of Maggi noodles being sold in one city of Uttar Pradesh were found to have excess lead content there were country wide protests. This Nestle product is being sold in India for over 20 years and in fact Maggi noodles had become a source of livelihood for several entrepreneurs who sell this outside offices and educational institutions as instant food.

But so huge was the controversy that Maggi was taken off the shelves from all shops and malls after which the controversy also engulfed the star promoters of the brand like like Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta who had endorsed Maggi at one point in time.

Going by the rules yes, celebrities too are in violation of the law if they promote a brand on false claims.

Section 24 (2) of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 in conjunction with Section 53 of the same Act clearly states that “ a person who ‘orally’, ‘in writing’ or ‘by visual representation’ makes false claims about the nutritional value of the product or the efficacy of the product without providing any scientific justification stands in violation of the Act.”

Section 53 makes the person who is a party to such false advertisement liable to pay up to Rs 10 lakh and states that false representation on the label is not a defence. Section 2 (1) (r) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is largely similar.

But questions were raised as to whether an endorsement done 10 years ago could be held against a celebrity if some samples were found defective later? In a country where there are not enough food testing laboratories to check the quality of the pulses and milk products, can this criticism be justified? And what now when after having got Maggi tested all over the globe it is back on the shelves in departmental stores?

However the question is whether the rules set down by Paswan will also apply to the biggest superstar of advertising Baba Ramdev, who has become the most visible face in TV commercials.

Data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India states that between January and March, Patanjali Ayurved doubled the number of advertisements it airs on TV channels.

In the past three months, Ramdev appeared 2,34,934 times during commercial breaks across TV channels to endorse Patanjali products which works out to an advertisement aired every 30 seconds on one channel or another.

Initially Baba Ramdev used the face of BJP MP and actor Hema Malini for selling his biscuits, wrestler Sushil Kumar for selling th ghee and actor Kirron Kher for selling his brand’s chilli powder.

But now like the 85 year old Dharampal Gulati of Mahashian di Hatti (MDH name and fame) Baba Ramdev seems to have taken his own branding upon his own strong shoulders. This is besides his Yoga programmes that are aired on his Bhakti channels.

Are there double standards in the country?

Just taking the case of Ramdev everyone knows how controversy has always chased him beginning with the charge of using animal bones in his medicines to his claims of curing cancer and other diseases but he seems invincible.

More recently, taking advantage of the Maggi ban the shrewd Baba Ramdev launched his own atta noodles. In the very beginning there was a complaint from FSSAI he did not get approval for Patanjali Noodles. But this was glossed over as Ramdev said he never received any notice from FSSAI.

Apparently the FSSAI had given approval for Patanjali's pasta brand and he proved that noodles are the same as pasta. "We have licence for Pasta in central category from FSSAI. As per FSSAI, noodles come under the 'pasta' category. FSSAI has given us licence for relabeling in the pasta category," said Patanjali.

Very recently there were complaints that insects were found in Patanjali noodles in Jind and a man went to court. There is no word about this since, and whether any action has been taken.

There have been many several other complaints against Ramdev’s false claims but they are ignored or dismissed or they simply disappear mysteriously from the public domain.

Last year the Health department of Uttarakhand Government came out denouncing the Putrajeevak Beej sold by Patanjali as violating both the Drug and Cosmetic Rules 1945 and the PCPNDT Act, which has in its ambit the prevention of practices like promoting of male sex preference in society.

"The product is acting as a catalyst in suppressing the state's efforts to spread awareness against female foeticide," stated the then Health Secretary of Uttarakhand, Om Prakash. More important, the very concept of Putrajeevak seems to be the anti-thesis of the Prime Minister’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme. But that controversy also died a natural end and today the government that raised that issue is out of power.

Undeterred by controversies Patanjali’s weekly ad insertions on television have jumped 102% from 11,897 in the first week of January to 24,050 times in the week ended 25 March, going by the official statement of BARC.

The Baba personally does the voice-overs for some of the ads, endorsing the “natural goodness” of his products which can never be challenged or tested.

Makes one wonder whether such adverse reports affect the progress of Patanjali which has recently signed a partnership with Kishore Biyani-led Future Retail Ltd and it is predicted that Patanjali’s sales will increase to Rs.20,000 crore by 2020 at this rate. He is already giving nightmares to the MNCs as he is venturing into new products almost every month.

Other film stars and celebrities are quite conscious about their own image taking a beating and to steer clear as Dhoni has done. At the height of the Pepsi controversy when Sunita Narain proved that the soft drink had dangerous level of pesticides stars like Aamir Khan backed out till the issue was settled.Some of them are very categorical that they would not appear for ads to promote cigarettes or liquor as it could spoil their image.

But for the biggest star of stars, controversies only seem to help. Ramdev is moving from strength to strength with even his photograph of wearing female attire while jumping down from the stage in Ramlila Ground to escape police arrest during the UPA regime, failing to dent his invincible image.