Hon’ble Supreme Court Issues Assorted Directions for Proceedings under the NDPS Act

By Rudrajyoti Nath Ray, Associate

It has been repeatedly stressed that cases under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (“NDPS Act”) should be tried as early as possible because in such cases, accused are, generally, not released on bail. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the recently concluded matter of Thana Singh v. Central Bureau of Narcotics (Criminal Appeal No. 1640 of 2010) was, notably, possessed of the question of grant of bail to an accused who had been languishing in prison for more than twelve years, awaiting the commencement of his trial for an offence under the NDPS Act – and was, in fact, consistently denied bail. After granting the deserved bail in that case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court decided to take cognizance of the state of trials in such like cases pending in all States.

The result has been astounding. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has issued multifarious directions, restricted to proceedings under the NDPS Act, for due observance by all concerned as the law declared by the Hon’ble Court under Article 141 of the Constitution of India. These directions may be noted.

Concerning Adjournments: 

Henceforth, no NDPS court will grant adjournments at the request of a party except where the circumstances are beyond the control of the party. This exception must be treated as an exception, and must not be allowed to swallow the generic rule against grant of adjournments. Further, where the date for hearing has been fixed as per the convenience of the counsel, no adjournment shall be granted without exception.

 Concerning Examination of Witnesses: 

Henceforth, It would be prudent to return to the erstwhile method of holding “session’s trials” i.e. conducting examination and cross-examination of a witness on consecutive days over a block period of three to four days. This would permit a witness to take the stand after making one-time arrangements for travel and accommodation, after which, he would be liberated from his civil duties qua a particular case. Therefore, concerned courts shall adopt the method of “session’s trials” and assign block dates for examination of witnesses. The concerned courts shall also make most of Section 293 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and save time by taking evidence from official witnesses in the form of affidavits.

Concerning Workload

Henceforth, each State, in consultation with the High Court, particularly the states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir (where the pendency of cases over five years is stated to be high) shall establish Special Courts which would deal exclusively with offences under the NDPS Act. The number of these courts must be proportionate to, and sufficient for, handling the volume of pending cases in the State. However, till the time exclusive courts for the purpose of disposing of NDPS cases under the NDPS Act are established, these cases will be prioritized over all other matters. After the setting up of the special courts for NDPS cases, only after the clearance of matters under the NDPS Act will an NDPS court be permitted to take up any other matters.

Concerning Narcotics Laboratories

Henceforth, the Centre must ensure equal access to Central Forensic Science Laboratories from different parts of the country. The current four CFSL’s only cater to the needs of northern and some areas of western and eastern parts of the country. Therefore, besides the three in the pipeline, more CFSL’s must be established, especially to cater to the needs of southern and eastern parts of the country. Analogous directions shall also apply to States. Each State, depending on the backlog of cases in that state, shall establish state level and regional level forensic science laboratories.

The above mentioned authorities shall ensure adequate employment of technical staff and provision of facilities and resources for the purposes of proper, smooth and efficient running of the facilities of Forensic Science Laboratories under them and the Laboratories shall furnish their reports expeditiously to the concerned agencies.

The Directorate of Forensic Science Services, Ministry of Home Affairs, must take special steps, in fact, to ensure standardization of equipment across the various forensic laboratories to prevent vacillating results and disallow a litigant an opportunity to challenge test results on that basis. 

Concerning Personnel

Henceforth, further, steps must be taken by the concerned departments to improve the quality and expertise of the technical staff, equipment and testing laboratories.

Concerning Re-Testing Provisions

Henceforth, after the completion of necessary tests by the concerned laboratories, results of the same must be furnished to all parties concerned with the matter. Any requests as to re-testing/re-sampling shall not be entertained under the NDPS Act as a matter of course. These may, however, be permitted, in extremely exceptional circumstances, for cogent reasons to be recorded by the Presiding Judge. An application in such rare cases must be made within a period of fifteen days of the receipt of the test report; no applications for re-testing/re-sampling shall be entertained thereafter. However, in the absence of any compelling circumstances, any form of re-testing/re-sampling shall be strictly prohibited under the NDPS Act. 

Concerning Monitoring:

Henceforth, nodal officers shall be appointed in all the departments dealing with the NDPS cases, for monitoring the progress of investigation and trial. This nodal officer must be equivalent or superior to the rank of Superintendent of Police, who shall ensure that the trial is not delayed on account of non-supply of documents, non- availability of the witnesses, or for any other reason. There must be one Pairvi Officer too or other such officer for each court who shall report the day’s proceedings to the nodal officer assigned for that court.

Finally, Concerning Public Prosecutors  

Henceforth, Special Public Prosecutors for the Central Bureau of Narcotics shall be appointed by the Ministry of Home Affairs after scrutiny by the Ministry of Law and Justice. The District and Sessions Judge shall make recommendations for such appointments in consultation with the Administrative Judge/Portfolio Judge/Inspecting Judge, incharge of looking after the administration of the concerned Sessions Division. 

We can only expect and hope, like the Hon’ble Supreme Court has, that the aforesaid directions “are complied with by the Central Government, State Governments and the Union Territories, as the case may be, expeditiously and in the spirit that these have been made”.

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