Updated: October 9, 2021 9:13:46 am
For the Narcotics Control Bureau, once bitten is not twice shy. Last year, it got a rap on the knuckles from the Bombay High Court, which while granting bail to actor Rhea Chakraborty, described as “unreasonable” and without basis, the central agency’s contention that she was part of a “drug syndicate” and had financed her late friend and film star Sushant Singh Rajput’s drug habit. This year, as the NCB seeks to implicate the 24-year-old son of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan in an “international” drug racket, it seems to have learnt few lessons from 2020. The NCB lawyer submitted in court that the star son was not found in possession of any narcotic drugs when a team of the agency raided a cruise ship on a tip-off that there was going to be a “drugs party” on board. Arresting a person during a narcotics raid even though no drugs were found on him, nor a blood test carried out to determine if he had taken any narcotic substances, and justifying the arrest on the basis of WhatsApp messages obtained from his phone after detaining him, is highly questionable. Even before all this, as exposed by the NCP, it turns out that the NCB was accompanied on the raid by a BJP member and a private detective.
The NCB has said that the two were “independent witnesses”, but their conduct appeared more suited to law enforcing officials. They were seen holding the hands of the accused as if to prevent escape, and leading them into the agency’s office in Mumbai. The NCB has yet to provide a credible explanation for how a politician, who claims to have given the tip-off, and a private detective who is facing a criminal case, are nominated to be independent witnesses. There are set rules about who can be named as a panchnama witness, and these two clearly do not qualify.
In an environment in which central agencies are perceived as blunt weapons wielded by the ruling party at the Centre against those it wishes to target, the NCB cannot gloss over the fact that the politician who it took along for the raid was a member of the BJP. Last year, as it argued against granting bail to Chakraborty, the NCB said that celebrities and role models should receive “harsh” punishment in order to set an example to youngsters. By the same token, a law enforcing agency of the NCB’s stature should uphold the highest standards of investigation and best practice, so that it does not set a bad example for other law enforcers.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 9, 2021 under the title ‘A fishing expedition’.
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