Days after coming to power in Punjab where it had promised voters an end to the drug problem in the state, the Congress government is considering, among other measures, invoking a provision in the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act that allows a person booked under the law to seek immunity from prosecution if he or she agrees to undergo medical treatment for de-addiction in a government hospital or an authorised centre.
Sources said the government wants such persons to commit themselves to a year-long de-addiction programme. Immunity from prosecution can be sought on completion of the programme and medical certification, sources said, adding that this will only apply to non-commercial offences.
Section 64A in the NDPS Act relates to “immunity from prosecution to addicts volunteering for treatment”. It states: “Any addict, who is charged with an offence punishable under section 27 or with offences involving small quantity of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances, who voluntarily seeks to undergo medical treatment for de-addiction from a hospital or an institution maintained or recognised by the Government or a local authority and undergoes such treatment shall not be liable to prosecution under section 27 or under any other section for offences involving small quantity of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances: Provided that the said immunity from prosecution may be withdrawn if the addict does not undergo the complete treatment for de-addiction.”
Sources said the Punjab government is also considering designating senior officials of the state drug control department to make drug seizures and register cases.
A senior official said the government wants to “differentiate between hard core drug traffickers and those who have become victims due to some circumstances”.
“Those who have been arrested with small quantity of drugs can use this option. Police can take them to a magistrate and these persons will have to agree to undergo the year-long programme,” sources said.
Cracking down on drugs in 2014-2015, the previous SAD-BJP government packed Punjab jails with nearly 30,000 addicts who were held will small quantities of drugs.
When The Indian Express checked with police officers whether the NDPS section had been invoked earlier to seek immunity from prosecution, most said they were unaware of proceedings under Section 64 (A).
Harjit Singh, SSP Tarn Taran, said: “I have not come across such legal proceedings where an inmate seeks immunity by invoking this section.”
J Elanchezhian, SSP Amritsar Rural, said: “To my knowledge, not many people have used this section to get immunity from prosecution. There is a need of awareness about this section of the Act. In the past, I used to recommend to first-time offenders that they can use this section of the Act and get immunity. But there was no response. It needs to be implemented.”