Daily News Analysis

War On Drugs  

23rd October, 2021 Polity

Figure 2: No Copyright Infringement Intended

Context:

  • From Rhea Chakraborty to now Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan, the Narcotics Control Bureau’s Bollywood encounter has been a potboiler of its own, complete with alleged WhatsApp chat evidence, a cruise party, and an “international drug network”.

About Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985:

  • The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act is an Act of the Parliament of India that prohibits any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance from being produced/cultivated, owned, sold, purchased, transported, processed, and/or consumed by a person.
  • Narcotic drugs include coca leaf, cannabis (hemp), opium, and poppy straw, as per the NDPS Act.
  • A psychotropic drug includes any natural or synthetic material or any salt or preparation protected by the Psychotropic Substances Convention of 1971.
  • Strict arrangements have been made for the monitoring and regulation of operations relating to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances under the NDPS Act.
  • The minimum sentence for dealing with drugs, as per the NDPS Act, is 10 years of rigorous imprisonment coupled with a Rs . 1 lakh fine.
  • For all individuals booked under this act, no bail is issued.
  • Also, no relief can be sought by the drug convicts by termination, remission, and commutation of sentences passed.
  • The NDPS Act prescribes capital punishment for repeated drug trafficking offenders.
  • All the offences under NDPS Act are non-bailable.
  • It has been amended thrice — in 1989, 2001, and 2014. The 1989 amendment, among other things, added a provision introducing the death penalty for repeat offenders. 
  • The bail provision under NDPS requires the court to have “reasonable grounds” to believe that the accused is not guilty and that he is unlikely to commit another offence while on bail. 

Criticism of the act:

  • NDPS is considered as one of the harshest laws in the country.
  • As per the NDPS Act, the minimum sentence for dealing with drugs is 10 years rigorous imprisonment coupled with a fine of Rs. 1 lakh. On the other hand, the punishment for heinous crimes like rape and human trafficking is only 7 years imprisonment.
  • No bail is granted for those persons booked under this act. In addition, no relief can be obtained by the drug convicts through suspension, remission and commutation of sentences passed.
  • Even worse, NDPS Act prescribes capital punishment for repeat offenders of drug trafficking even though the offence cannot be called as a heinous crime. It is felt that death penalty is too harsh for the crimes of this nature. However, government defends death penalty by saying that even International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has never objected to the death penalty offered to the drug convicts.
  • In many cases indiscriminate raids are conducted to book offenders’ especially street users.
  • A substance named buprenorphine was used to treat opiate dependence. But once Punjab police raided a clinic and charged the psychiatrist under the NDPS Act, the treatment was stopped in all the other clinics and now the patients have no other option than to cure themselves and are forced to use illegal and riskier drugs.

 

About Narcotics Control Bureau:

  • NCB is the nodal drug law enforcement and intelligence agency of India responsible for fighting drug trafficking and the abuse of illegal substances.
  • It functions under Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
  • It is Headquartered in New Delhi.
  • It was established in March 1986 to enable full implementation of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 and fight its violation through Prevention of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1988.
  • Its mandate is to fight drug trafficking on an all-India level.
  • It works in close cooperation with Customs and Central Excise, State Police Department, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB) and other Indian intelligence and law enforcement agencies both at the national and states level.
  • It also provides resources and training to personnel of India’s law enforcement agencies in fighting drug trafficking. It also monitors India’s frontiers to track down points where smuggling activities take place with foreign traffickers.

Way Forward:

  • Law Commission which is presently reviewing criminal justice and sentencing should make note of the excesses and harsh punishments that NDPS Act provides and make appropriate recommendations to abolish disproportionate penalties like capital punishment.
  • Enforcement agencies need to be sensitized and people who use drugs to access evidence-based treatment services should not be slapped with imprisonment and criminal prosecution.
  • The use of narcotic and psychotropic medicines should be widened if its effectiveness is scientifically proven along with safeguards against illicit diversion.
  • Government should consult psychiatrists, civil society organizations, academics and patients while issuing drug policy formulations.
  • India is a country with long history cannabis and opium use. Instead of trying to create a drug free society, government should apply harm reduction principles to drug policy formulation.