Ayurveda, Unani or homeopathy healers cannot practice without getting themselves officially registered, the Supreme Court has ruled while expressing concern at quacks “playing with lives”.

Practitioners of alternative medicine need to be registered under the Indian Medicine Central Council Act, for which they are required to obtain a degree or diploma from a recognized institution teaching these courses.

“Earlier, there were very few institutions imparting teaching and training to doctors, vaidyas, and hakims,” the bench of Justices R.K. Agrawal and M. Shantanagoudar observed on Friday.

“But the situation has changed and there are quite a good number of institutions imparting education in indigenous medicines.”

Therefore, the bench said, there is no excuse 70 years after Independence for people “having little knowledge or having no recognized or approved qualification… practicing medicine and playing with the lives of thousands and millions of people”.

“A number of unqualified, untrained quacks are posing a great risk to the entire society,” it added.

The court dismissed a plea from the Kerala Ayurveda Paramparya Vaidya Forum, which had challenged a 15-year-old Kerala High Court order that had rejected its plea to allow the unregistered to practice indigenous medicine.

According to the petitioners, the requirement for mandatory registration hurts Kerala’s paramparya vaidyas – entire families that have for ages been practising siddha, unani or ayurveda for a living, with the elders passing their knowledge on to the next generation.

With the introduction of the IMCC Act, 1970, and certain other laws, these hereditary healers have been debarred from practicing unless they get themselves registered.

However, this has been difficult for them because they claim to learn their art from family elders and not recognized institutions.

The forum argued that tradition requires the paramparya vaidyas to hand their knowledge down to their descendants. It claimed their practice has an edge over modern medicine, in that they prepare medicines for each patient separately and these have no side effects.

The state government defended the restrictions, saying many people were practicing indigenous medicine without qualification or registration in Kerala, endangering people’s lives and health.

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