The Animal Welfare Board of India has sent yet another legal notice to Johnson & Johnson (J&J) making it “jointly and severally liable for illegality” in procuring a no-objection certificate to shoot a television commercial to launch the Savlon soap.
The board, constituted under the ministry of environment and forests, has ordered J&J to take the commercial off the airwaves. The company has been accused of violating the Performing Animals (Registration) Rules, 2001, where the maximum penalties could go up to Rs1 crore.
ANIMAL PLANET (Graphic)
The welfare board issued its first legal notice to J&J at the end of June, alleging violation of Indian laws governing the use of animals as well as using a forged permit to shoot such commercials.
The soap commercial used a dog, two sparrows and three cockatoos.
Mint reported on 6 July that J&J has been issued a legal notice by the board for shooting the commercial with an allegedly “forged” no-objection certificate.
Prashant Sampat, the executive director for Classic Films, the firm that made the commercial, told Mint that Shankar Narayanan, a Mumbai-based supplier of animals for such shoots, “obtained the permission for us. So the alleged forgery—if any—is committed by him.”
However, Narayanan has since denied that he had obtained the certificate. “I am in no way involved in this,” he said. “I only supply animals. I am not in the business ofgetting certificates. I don’t know from where they got certificates.”
He, however, declined to say whether or not he had supplied the animals for the J&J commercial.
Anil Nayak, J&J’s director corporate communications, said, “We have received thelegal notice. Our advocates have responded to it. We are not involved in forgery as we are not involved in procuring the (no-objection) certificate. We have behaved in a bona fide manner.”
“We used the services of SSCB Lintas for our commercial, who in turn used Classic Films for production. We are not aware of any instance of forgery. We respect law of the land,” said Nayak.
Over at SSCB Lintas, Ravi Shankar, a vice-president, said: “We are in no way involved... The producer is responsible for getting all the required permissions.”
Classic Films filmed the commercial in Malaysia and Sampat had previously said the certificate was taken only to be on “the safer side,” implying that no permission was needed because the ad was shot outside India.
Sampat couldn’t be reached for additional comment on Narayanan’s or SSCB Lintas’ assertion.
“I spoke with Sampat (of Classic Films) after we saw the commercial on air. Sampatinformed me that he had the requisite permission to shoot the TV commercial and he said he would email the permission to us in a few hours. I was surprised as to why he enquired about the procedure when he already had the NOC (no-objection certificate), and he told me that was for another film,” said Anuradha Sawhney, chief functionary of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) India, an activist animal welfare group.
“So long as the producer is an Indian and he is shooting to air the commercial in India, he has to take prior permission from us,” said Major General R.M. Kharb, chairman of the welfare board.
“He has to ensure that there is no cruelty involved and also send us the clip of the movie where the animals are used. Why do they have to forge a certificate?”
The latest notice, dated 10 July and signed by the board’s legal adviser S.R. Sundaram, says: “...you M/S Johnson & Johnson Co., being the producer and the sponsor, is jointly and severally liable for the illegality perpetrated in procuring the forged certificate... Your M/S Johnson & Johnson Co. vicariously contributed and is liable for the commission of the offences committed as stated in the said notice dated 26/6/07, in engaging M/S Classic Films, Mumbai, for the production of the subject film and telecast it by obtaining a false, forged and fabricated certificate...”