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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Govt moves to amend NDPS Act, Opposition calls it ‘bad law’

Opposition alleged that the bill was an “example of bad drafting” by the government, and that it was “not responsive nor sensitive” to Opposition's objections.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
Updated: December 6, 2021 10:08:51 pm
NDPS act, NDPS act amendments, Opposition NDPS act, parliametn NDPS act, NDPS act amendment changes, parliament news, indian express newsLok Sabha Speaker Om Birla conducts proceedings in the House during the Winter Session of Parliament, in New Delhi. (LSTV/PTI)

The Opposition objected to a Bill introduced by the Centre Monday to correct a drafting error in the existing Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act that rendered a key provision related to the punishment of those financing illicit trafficking inoperable.

Opposition MPs — including from the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, Biju Janata Dal and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) — asked the government to withdraw and redraft the amendments to the bill, saying that it violated the fundamental rights of a citizen as it provides retrospective effect to offences starting 2014.

They alleged that the bill was an “example of bad drafting” by the government, and that it was “not responsive nor sensitive” to Opposition’s objections.

On Monday, Minister of State for Finance, Bhagwat Karad, introduced before the Lok Sabha the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which seeks to replace an ordinance promulgated on September 30 this year.

Under the Act, financing certain illicit activities — such as cultivating cannabis, manufacturing narcotic drugs, and harbouring persons engaged in those actions, among others — is an offence. People found guilty can be punished with rigorous imprisonment of at least ten years (extendable up to 20 years) and a fine of at least Rs 1 lakh.

“The new provision is giving retrospective effect from May 1, 2014. That means a criminal provision is given, which will not hold in good law. It also violates the fundamental rights in Article 21 because you can be punished for an offence for which there is a law in existence at the time of commission of the offence,” said N K Premachandran, the RSP MP from Lok Sabha.

He added that the bill introduced by the government tried to do away with the error but did not make “consequential amendments” related to other provisions.

The RSP lawmaker warned the government that the constitutional validity of the bill will be challenged and it will be difficult to get past judicial scrutiny.

Congress chief whip Kodikkunnil Suresh and TMC’s Saugata Roy too criticised the bill. “Its a bad law and a bad law is not a law at all,” Roy said.

The bill was introduced by the government to rectify an error that made provisions in Section 27 of the Act — providing for punishment of those financing illicit trafficking — inoperable.

This happened in 2014, when the Act was amended in 2014 to ease access of narcotic drugs for medical necessities, but the penal provision was not amended accordingly.

In June 2021, the Tripura High Court found the oversight in the law and directed the Union Home Ministry to amend the provisions of Section 27.

The government introduced an ordinance in September after the seizure of around 3,000 kg of drugs, estimated to be worth Rs 21,000 crore, at Gujarat’s Mundra Port. At the time, the provisions of the existing NDPS Act had been invoked for illegal drug trafficking.

In the objectives and reasons given for the bill, the government pointed out on Monday that the Tripura HC had directed the government to take appropriate steps for
the amendment.

“Hence, with a view to have correct interpretation and implementation of the NDPS Act, it was decided to rectify the anomaly in section 27A of the Act,” it said. It also said the President had to promulgate the Ordinance as Parliament was not in session and urgent legislation was required to be made at the time.

However, the Opposition was unimpressed.

“How come wisdom dawned on the government after seven years,” asked Bhartruhari Mehtab, BJD MP.

“How can a criminal law be amended with retrospective effect.. The government should redraft and come back to the House,” Mehtab said, adding that the bill was amended (in 2014) by the then UPA government and it too did not pay heed to the objections raised by the then Opposition.

Talking to The Indian Express outside Parliament, RSP’s Premachandran said the government’s move could be interpreted as a vindication of the recent remark made by the Chief Justice of India that it was difficult to interpret laws passed by Parliament. The lawmaker was referring to CJI N V Ramana’s remark last month saying that the legislature has passed laws without conducting studies or assessing their impacts.

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