Procedural safeguards & immunities under the NDPS Act
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 views drug offences very seriously and prescribes stiff penalties. The Act follows a graded system of punishment with the punishment varying with the quantum of punishment being dependent upon whether the offence pertains to small, commercial and intermediate quantities of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. For offences involving commercial quantities of drugs, a minimum penalty of ten years rigorous imprisonment is prescribed, which may extend to twenty years. Repeat offences attract one and half times the penalty and in a few cases even the death penalty. Alongside these stringent provisions, the Act has procedural safeguards as follows:
Personal search: Any person being searched has a right to be searched before a Gazetted Officer or a Magistrate (Section 50). The officer searching the person has to explain to the person that he has a right to be searched before a Gazetted Officer or a Magistrate and if the person wishes to be searched before a Gazetted Officer or a Magistrate he should be taken to the Gazetted Officer or the Magistrate and searched. However, if the officer has reason to believe that it is not possible to take him to a Gazetted officer or a magistrate without giving him a chance to part with the drug, controlled substance, etc., he can search him under Section 100 of the Cr. P. C. [Section 50(5) and 50 (6)].
Searches: As per Section 41 of the NDPS Act, Gazetted Officers of the empowered Departments can authorize searches. Such authorization has to be based on information taken down in writing. As per Section 42, searches can be made under certain circumstances without a warrant (from a magistrate) or an authorization (from a Gazetted Officer). In case of such searches, the officer has to send a copy of the information taken in writing or the grounds of his belief to his immediate official superior within 72 hours.
Arrests: The person who is arrested should be informed, as soon as may be, the grounds of his arrest [Section 52 (1)]. If the arrest or seizure is based on a warrant issued by a magistrate, the person or the seized article should be forwarded to that magistrate [Section 52(2)].
The officer who arrests a person has to make a full report to his official superior within 48 hours [section 57 ].
Dilution of safeguards under Sections 42 and 50 of the NDPS Act
The Report mentions section 42 (procedure for conducting search without a warrant) and section 50 (procedure for searching a person suspected of carrying drugs) of the NDPS Act in passing. This is surprising as these provisions lay down important safeguards for persons accused of drug offences. During the first ten years of the NDPS Act coming into force, Courts zealously enforced these protections by observing that:-
“It must be borne in mind that the severer the punishment, the greater has to be the care taken to see that all the safeguards provided in a statute are scrupulously followed.”
Compliance with these provisions was considered mandatory and a violation of the conditions contained therein was a ground for acquittal.
Immunities for Drug Offences.
Officers: Officers acting in discharge of their duties in good faith under the Act are immune from suits, prosecution and other legal proceedings (Section 69).
Addicts: Addicts charged with consumption of drugs (Section 27) or with offences involving small quantities will be immune from prosecution if they volunteer for de-addiction. This immunity may be withdrawn if the addict does not undergo complete treatment (Section 64A).
Offenders: Central or state governments can tender immunity to an offender in order to obtain his evidence in the case. This immunity is granted by the government and not by the court (Section 64).
Juvenile offenders: Juvenile offenders (below 18 years of age) will be governed by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.
Immunities to diplomats as applicable.
The importance of this Act in the present scenario is that nowadays we hear a lot about consumption of drugs and such other illicit substances. Even the Government took a brave step by banning all such drugs like HANS, KHAINI, etc. But people are still consuming such deadly substances as they are still available in the market. Another problem arising out of this issue is that even the school going children have started consuming such illicit substances with the help of many middlemen between them and the suppliers of such drugs. Such situations have to be handled by the concerned authorities and also by the parents so that they stop using such drugs. No actions can be adopted by the authorities if there is no public participation in such issues. People living in residential communities may arrange certain awareness programs and periodical inspections at the places where they feel there is a regular consumption of such products. People can also form various action committees for abolishing the explicit usage of such items from the society as such acts do not affect a person alone, but the society as a whole.
Author: Mohit Mathur