In 2008, Madhya Pradesh High Court acquitted a few accused charged under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, primarily for lack of evidence about the destruction of the 3.36 kilograms of opium that had been allegedly seized.
In the absence of any evidence to show that the seized contraband was destroyed as per procedure, the contraband should have been, according to the high court, produced before the trial court. The high court held that the failure of the prosecution to either produce the narcotics or show its destruction implied a failure to prove the very seizure of the contraband.
The central government challenged this in the Supreme Court. On April 11, 2012, a bench of Justices T S Thakur and Gyan Sudha Misra took note of a 1989 standing order and a 2011 circular by the finance ministry on destruction of the seized contraband but it expressed apprehensions whether the procedure was being followed at all. The bench appointed senior advocate Ajit Kumar Sinha as amicus curiae.
The Supreme Court then noted: “The pilferage of the contraband and its return to the marketplace for circulation is, in our opinion, a major hazard against which the system must guard at all costs, if necessary by making suitable changes wherever the same are called for.”
It expanded the scope of the appeal, saying, “The hazardous nature of the substance seized in large quantities all over the country must not be let loose on the society because of human failure or failure of the system that is purported to have been put in place.”
On July 3, 2012, Sinha told the bench that in the absence of proper data from the concerned authorities, it would not be possible to take stock of the magnitude of the problem even as challenges posed by rampant drug abuse have attained formidable proportions affecting especially the youth and driving them towards crime. Citing legal provisions, he asserted that destruction of seized narcotic drugs is not only a statutory duty but a constitutional mandate.
Agreeing with Sinha’s submissions, the bench said: “The problem is both widespread and formidable. There is hardly any state in the country today which is not affected by the production, transportation, marketing and abuse of drugs in large quantities. There is in that scenario no gainsaying that the complacency of the government or officers dealing with the problem and its magnitude is wholly misplaced.”
It then framed various questions under various heads and sought replies from state governments and Union territories. Further proceedings had to wait until responses from all the states came in. The matter was listed last week when solicitor general Ranjit Kumar appeared for the Centre.
Kumar admitted lapses on the part of the authorities in storing and destroying drugs while also agreeing that possibility of pilferage of drugs cannot be ruled out in the wake of shoddy monitoring. Sinha told the bench that the high court concerned should be involved in monitoring seizure, storage and destruction of drugs.
The court said it would start this exercise with Delhi and if a nearly perfect model could be developed for the national capital, it could be replicated for other states. Kumar said he would come back with relevant details on Wednesday, September 2, when the case comes next.