Trilochan Das claims his Whey protein has anti-ageing properties, while other drugs, he says, can cure terminal illnesses.
New Delhi: It’s the eve of Janmashtami. Sitting on a beige sofa, set over a Persian rug in a gated building in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, Sant Trilochan Das claims to have effectively treated patients with terminal illnesses.
“We specialise in curing HIV and end-stage cancers. We have cured hundreds of fourth-stage breast cancer patients,” says Das, the head of Das Dharam, a Namdhari Sikh sect. His website says he has treated over 10 lakh patients in less than four years.
While his outlandish medical claims have little backing, this means little to his followers. On this day, there are over 2 lakh devotees waiting to catch a glimpse of him outside the lawns of his durbar in Ghaziabad.
Some, like Amanpreet Kaur, are keen to consult Das. Eight months pregnant, she says her unborn child has been diagnosed with a cyst in the kidney.
“I don’t want any medical help. I have seen people coming here in the last stages of diseases but going out on their feet, healthy and smiling. I know my baby will be fine if I take your advice,” she tells Das in a room filled with his followers.
Such beliefs are the driving force behind a burgeoning pharmaceutical business that Das launched in 2015. Its portfolio, Das says, includes drugs that can “cure cancer and HIV” and a Whey protein that he claims has anti-ageing properties.
The protein powder, which he actively promotes it in his satsangs, appears to be the centrepiece of Das’s growing empire. It has even earned him the moniker ‘protein baba’ among his followers.
In one satsang, he is seen telling his followers that he personally devised the formula for the Whey protein, which costs Rs 2,500 for a 1.3 kg box.
“It took between two and two-and-a-half years for me to devise this product. I have put all of my energies into making this formula,” he says while holding up a box of protein powder.
Later his followers, some as old as 70 years, claim that they have stopped feeling body pain and weakness after starting consuming the powder.
‘Have Ayush approval’
The medicinal drugs, Das claims, also have the central government’s endorsement – the Ministry of Ayush, he says, has approved them under the category of ‘alternative medicines’.
“All our all medicines are approved by Ministry of Ayush,” says Das, adding that the Indian government isn’t the only one that has okayed the sale of his drugs.
“We just signed agreements with governments in African countries to sell our medicines there, including the ones to cure HIV and cancer,” says Das, while showing the photographs he says he clicked during his tour to Africa.
The Ayush Ministry, however, has denied approving the medicines and is threatening legal action.
“The ministry of Ayush hasn’t approved any such products and I will get back to you after getting more details,” Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha, secretary, Ayush, told ThePrint.
After checking the company’s website, Rajeshawari Singh, research officer at Ayush, said, “We have not approved any product that is being sold on the website and in fact we plan to issue a show cause notice after completing the legal consultation on the matter.”
Medical professionals also slam those who claim to cure non-treatable diseases.
“I won’t comment on a particular company but any firm that claims to treat non-treatable diseases, whether approved or not by Ayush, is committing an offence and must be punished,” says Dr K.K. Aggarwal, former president of the Indian Medical Association.
“We see many patients looking for hope and they are cheated or are kept away from the right treatment due to such products,” he adds.
‘Blessings from the guru’
Das’s medicines are sold by his company, the Abhimantrit GuruPrasadam Ayurveda Herbal Foods Private Limited, under the brand name Guru Prasadam, which translates as blessings from the guru.
Apart from the protein powder, the Sikh saint sells a wide range of products from child ‘super-food’ to a concoction for de-addiction. His firm, headquartered in Loni in Ghaziabad, sells close to 100 products, including medicines for cancer, hepatitis, haemophilia, paralysis and neurological disorders at an average price tag of Rs 250 a product.
According to the company’s website, its products are ‘generally safe’ for consumption.
Much of the sales, says Das, are through the 500 centres of the sect, spread across the country, and through e-commerce on its website. The company’s officials claim that the website receives traffic of over one lakh users a day.
“We are witnessing huge traffic on our obsolete website that is unable to handle the load. Within this week, we will be launching a website that would work as smooth as Amazon’s website,” says a company official.
The officials, however, refused to share revenue details.
According to the estimates of a retail analyst who does not want to be named, the average website conversion rate is 2.35 per cent — of the around 1 lakh daily visitors, around 2,350 visitors may turn into the buyers.
At the average price of Rs 250 a product, daily sales revenue could touch Rs 5.87 lakh. In total, estimated annual revenue could touch Rs 21 crore.
‘The godmen business tycoons’
For one who has “renounced worldly pleasures”, Das, sporting a white kurta pyjama and a face fringed by an untamed beard, is also hesitant to talk about his firm’s sales figures and revenues.
He asserts that whatever he does is only for charity and that he would not like to promote it as a business. “I am not selling all these herbs as a business. It is the trust of people that make them work. We, in fact, pay pension to people who are old and ill. We also sell these products at heavily discounted prices,” he says.
Das, however, is part of a growing tribe of ‘godmen’ cashing in on the spirituality market – a trend pioneered by yoga guru Baba Ramdev and his decade-old Patanjali Ayurved.
From almost nothing in 2007, Patanjali recorded revenues of Rs 10,000 crore in the 2016-17 financial year by relying on the ‘swadeshi’ business strategy. This strategy has helped Patanjali take on established multinational firms in a spate of sectors.
Patanjali’s success story has encouraged other ‘godmen’ to eye the Rs-5,000 crore herbal market and the Rs 3.4 lakh crore fast moving consumer goods sector.
While Ravi Shankar’s Sri Sri Ayurveda launched operations in 2003, it only recently began aggressively promoting its products on the back of Patanjali’s success.
In February 2016, Sirsa-based ‘spiritual leader’ Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh who is now jailed for rape, had announced that he was launching his own brand of swadeshi and organic products.
“The godmen have millions of followers. In business terms, they have a ready, captive market,” says Arvind Singhal, chairman at Technopak Advisors, a retail consultancy.
He, however, has a word of caution. “Patanjali is just one successful model. I don’t think that betting on just followers provides a long-term market.”