Delhi High Court has directed Amazon to remove the listing of a drink manufactured by a Pakistani company under the name “Rooh Afza” from its platform in India.
The order, passed on September 7, came on a plea filed by the Indian social welfare NGO Hamdard National Foundation saying some of the “Rooh Afza” listed on the e-commerce site in India are not manufactured by Hamdard Laboratories (India), but by Pakistani companies whose details are not mentioned on the packaging.
The Rooh Afza sherbet concentrate, a Unani formulation containing ingredients that are believed to have cooling properties, has long been popular in North India during summer. It is said to have been invented in Delhi in the first decade of the 20th century as a cure for the summer heat.
The court said: “‘Rooh Afza’ is a product which has been consumed by the Indian public for more than a century now, and its quality standards have to comply with the applicable regulations prescribed by the Food Safety and Standards Act and Legal Metrology Act. It is surprising that an imported product is being sold on Amazon without complete details of the manufacturer being disclosed.”
One of the manufacturers whose product was being sold on Amazon was Hamdard Laboratory (Waqf), Pakistan. The manufacturer says on its website that Hamdard Pakistan was founded in Karachi “in a two-room rented clinic of Tibb-e-Unani in 1948” by Hakim Mohammed Said, under whose leadership “Hamdard soon became a success story with its respected and well-liked products, especially Rooh Afza syrup and effective herbal medicines”.
The origin of Rooh Afza
Rooh afza is a deep pink-coloured, sweet, concentrated syrup made of fruits, roses, and herbs that is typically added to chilled water or milk, or used to flavour desserts such as phirni and falooda. Its consumption is often associated with Eid gatherings in the subcontinent, where the iftar meal for breaking the fast includes a variety of dishes and often, Rooh Afza.
The formula for the sherbet was invented by Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed, who owned a small clinic that practised Unani, an ancient tradition of Graeco-Arabic medicine that continues to be popular in the Middle East and some South Asian countries. Unani is recognised by the Ministry of AYUSH as one of the “traditional & non-conventional systems of health care and healing which include Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa and Homoeopathy etc”.
It is said that in 1906, Majeed began a search for something to prevent heat strokes, fatigue, and other health problems caused by the summer heat in North India, and Rooh Afza was created the following year, more as a cooling drink than as a medicine. After Majeed died at the age of 34, his wife Rabea Begum declared Hamdard a trust largely meant to fund charitable activities and research on Unani medicines.
The three Rooh Afzas
After the Partition of India and the creation of East and West Pakistan, Rabea Begum’s elder son Hakim Abdul Hamid stayed in India, while the younger son, Hakim Mohammed Said, moved to West Pakistan. This is why the Hamdard National Foundation owns the rights over the drink in India, while Hamdard Laboratories (Waqf) manufactures it in Pakistan.
Earlier in 2019, following reports of the syrup’s shortage in India close to Eid, Hamdard Laboratories Pakistan offered to supply Rooh Afza via the Wagah border if permitted by the Indian government.
In 1971 after Bangladesh was born, a separate Hamdard trust was set up there. All three businesses are run independently of each other by members of the extended family or the friends of the herbalist Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed, The New York Times said in a report published in 2021.
Today, according to the plaintiffs in the case in India, Hamdard India earns more than Rs 200 crore annually from sales of products sold under the Rooh Afza name.
The issue with the listing
Apart from the violation of Hamdard’s rights over Rooh Afza, the listing of Pakistan-manufactured products was found to be lacking the contact details of the manufacturer, meaning a consumer would find it difficult to distinguish between the Indian- and Pakistani-made syrups.
The court also said in a September 5 order that when the option to ‘Visit the Hamdard Store’, was selected in a Pakistan-based product listing, the user was directed to the Hamdard Laboratories India website. This could potentially mislead consumers about the product they might be purchasing, or they might wrongly assume that the Pakistan Hamdard is associated with the Indian Hamdard Laboratories.
The Bench said since Amazon claims to be an intermediary, which is a medium that provides a platform for interactions between people, it has an obligation to disclose the names of sellers and their contact details with the product listings. It directed Amazon to file an affidavit clarifying whether such details are mentioned on the Rooh Afza product listings, invoices and product labels.
Amazon was asked to file the affidavit within four weeks, Live Law reported. The next hearing in the matter is on October 31.