Draconian provisions of NDPS Act misused: Calcutta HC orders mandatory videography of recovery procedure
It is really good to note that in a remarkable, refreshing, robust and rational judgment titled Kalu Sk. @ Kuran v. State in C.R.M. (NDPS) 492 of 2022 with C.R.M. (NDPS) 493 of 2022 and cited in 2022 LiveLaw (Cal) 255 that was pronounced finally on June 22, 2022, the Calcutta High Court has directed that in all cases involving recovery of narcotic substances, seizing officers shall make a video recording of the entire procedure and that reasons for failing to videograph the recovery must be specifically stated in the investigation records. It must be specifically mentioned here that a Bench comprising of Justice Joymalya Bagchi and Justice Ananya Bandyopadhyay opined that all police officers are ordinarily equipped with smart phones and other electronic gadgets which would enable them to videograph such a recovery procedure. It was further observed that reliance on such technology must be placed to instill fairness, impartiality and confidence in the investigative process. The Court conceded that the draconian provisions of the NDPS Act have been misused. This further necessitates mandatory videography of recording procedure as conceded by the Court.
At the outset, the Bench comprising of Justice Joymalya Bagchi and Justice Ananya Bandyopadhyay sets the ball rolling by first and foremost putting forth candidly in the introductory para that, “Disturbing features were noticed in a number of cases including the present one involving recovery of narcotic substance under N.D.P.S. Act. Firstly, the seizure list did not contain signatures of all the accused persons who were alleged to have been arrested from the spot where the recovery was made. Secondly, presence of independent witnesses at the time of seizure appeared to be doubtful, as the said witnesses in their statements before the Magistrate under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure did not support the seizure. Noticing such discrepancies in the present and other cases, this Court was constrained to issue directions upon the Superintendent of Police of Murshidabad Police District to take steps in the matter including initiation of disciplinary proceedings/suspension of police officers connected with the investigation of the case.”
To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in the next para that, “Superintendent of Police is present before us. He has submitted report wherefrom it appears an administrative order has been issued directing all seizing officers to record signatures of accused persons who are apprehended at the time of recovery of narcotic substance in the seizure list. It also appears from the said report, seizing officer, investigating officer of the present case as well as Officer-in-charge of the Police Station concerned has been placed under suspension and departmental proceedings have been initiated against them.”
Without mincing any words, the Bench then concedes in the next para that, “N.D.P.S. Act vests plenary powers of search, seizure and arrest on investigating officers. The power of the court to grant bail is circumscribed by strict restrictions under Section 37 particularly in cases involving commercial quantity. While a strict law is necessary to control organized crime like drug trafficking and protect the youth from the menace of drug abuse, its draconian provisions are sometimes misused by investigating agency leading to false implication and prolonged unjustified detention of individuals. Most of the cases registered under the N.D.P.S. Act revolve around recovery of narcotic substance from the accused. Heart and soul of the prosecution is the legitimacy of such recovery. Prosecution in such cases primarily relies on the evidence of official witnesses particularly seizing officers to prove lawful recovery of contraband. In most cases as in the present case, independent witnesses are either not examined or turn hostile. There may be myriad reasons for that ranging from false implication to winning over of such witnesses by resourceful accuseds.”
Quite forthrightly, the Bench then observes that, “In order to remedy the situation and ensure unvarnished truth is placed before the court during adjudication, it is imperative that the investigating agencies resort to modern technology and videograph the recovery of narcotics.”
While underscoring the need for use of technology by the police, the Bench then points out that, “This Court takes judicial notice of the fact that all police officers are ordinarily equipped with smart phones and other electronic gadgets which would enable them to videograph recovery. When technology is available at the lay level we see no reason why it shall not be utilized to instill fairness, impartiality and confidence in the investigative process. Videography as a modern tool of investigation has been well recognised in law. In fact, the Field Officers’ Handbook issued by Narcotics Control Bureau, inter alia, directs the search team to carry video camera amongst other equipments for the purpose of search. (See Chapter 3 – Operation: Preparation, Co-ordination and Planning). In chapter 6 relating to “Recovery and Seizure” video recording of seizure of narcotics has been mandated as under:-
“Video:- A lot of times the witnesses and suspect allege foul play by the search team during the trial proceedings alleging that they were not present at the time of recovery. To avoid such a situation, all recovery and concealment methods should be videographed simultaneously if possible, recording the presence of the owner/occupant of the premises and the witnesses. This acts as a deterrent later during trial proceedings.””
Lamentably, the Bench then also points out the most worrying part as stated in the next para that, “Unfortunately, even in cases conducted by NCB, such directives are mostly observed in the breach.”
Be it noted, the Bench then points out that, “It may also be apposite to note use of videography in investigation was examined by a Committee constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2017. The Committee observed videography of crime scene as “desirable and acceptable best practice”. The Committee issued various directives for the purpose of preparation, capacity building and implementation of such procedure on a mandatory basis.”
While continuing in the same vein, the Bench then enunciates that, “The Committee also suggested a group of experts to be set up at the level of Government of India to issue guidelines and advisories. State Police and the Central investigating agencies were also advised to set up steering committees to spearhead the drive. State and Central agencies were also suggestive to designate a Senior Officer in the rank of IG/ADG as Nodal Officer for the preparation, capacity building and implementation of videograph in investigation.”
While citing the relevant case law, the Bench then deems it apposite to state that, “In Shafhi Mohammad Vs. State of Himachal Pradesh (2018) 5 SCC 311, the Apex Court noted the aforesaid report and observed as follows;
“9. We are in agreement with the Report of the Committee of Experts that videography of crime scene during investigation is of immense value in improving administration of criminal justice. A Constitution Bench of this Court in Karnail Singh v. State of Haryana (2009) 8 SCC 539 : (2009) 3 SCC (Cri) 887, SCC para 34 noted that technology is an important part in the system of police administration. It has also been noted in the decisions quoted in the earlier part of this order that new techniques and devices have evidentiary advantages, subject to the safeguards to be adopted. Such techniques and devices are the order of the day. Technology is a great tool in investigation [Ram Singh v. Ram Singh, 1985 Supp SCC 611; R. v. Maqsud Ali, (1966) 1 QB 688 : (1965) 3 WLR 229 : (1965) 2 All ER 464 (CCA); R. v. Robson, (1972) 1 WLR 651 : (1972) 2 All ER 699 (CCC); Tukaram S. Dighole v. Manikrao Shivaji Kokate, (2010) 4 SCC 329 : (2010) 2 SCC (Civ) 112 : (2010) 2 SCC (Cri) 826; Tomaso Bruno v. State of U.P., (2015) 7 SCC 178 : (2015) 3 SCC (Cri) 54; Mohd. Ajmal Amir Kasab v. State of Maharashtra, (2012) 9 SCC 1 : (2012) 3 SCC (Cri) 481; State (NCT of Delhi) v. Navjot Sandhu, (2005) 11 SCC 600 : 2005 SCC (Cri) 1715]. By the videography, crucial evidence can be captured and presented in a credible manner.””
Most forthrightly, the Bench then minced no words to hold that, “The Court further held time was ripe to introduce videography in investigation particularly for crime scene as a desirable and acceptable “best practice” as suggested by the Committee to strengthen the rule of law. It approved the Centrally Driven Plan of Action prepared by the Committee and the timelines mentioned therein.”
Most remarkably, the Bench then also hastens to add in the next para that, “The observations made in Shafhi Mohammad (supra) as well as the guidelines in the Field Officers’ Handbook issued by the Narcotics Control Bureau reinforce our view regarding mandatory videography of recovery proceedings under NDPS Act. Technology has advanced considerably and equipments like smartphones and other electronic devices enabling videography are ordinarily available with seizing officers. Hence, lack of availability of technology or awareness is a non-issue.”
Most significantly, the Bench then holds in the next para what forms the cornerstone of this notable judgment that, “Accordingly, we direct as follows:-
(i) In all cases involving recovery of narcotic substance particularly recovery of narcotic above commercial quantity, seizing officers shall make a video recording of the entire procedure unless for reasons beyond the control of seizing officers, they are unable to do so;
(ii) Reasons for failing to videograph the recovery proceeding must be specifically recorded in the investigation records particularly contemporaneous documents including seizure/inventory list;
(iii) Superior Police Officer not lower than the rank of Additional Superintendent of Police shall monitor recovery of narcotic substance above commercial quantity within their territorial jurisdiction and ensure due compliance of statutory provisions regarding search and seizure including compliance of the directives (i) and (ii) relating to videography of recovery and/or recording of adequate reasons for departure from such procedure;
(iv) Non-compliance of the directives (i) and (ii) relating to videography of recovery and/or failure to record just reasons in contemporaneous documents for its noncompliance would attract departmental proceeding so far as the seizing officer is concerned;
(v) Director General of Police shall issue necessary directions for due compliance with the aforesaid directives;
(vi) Superintendent of Police/Commissioner of Police in each district/commissionerate shall undertake training programmes to spread awareness and capacity building of officers regarding compliance of statutory requirements in the matter of search and seizure of narcotic substance under NDPS Act and compliance of the aforesaid directives relating to videograph of recovery including collection, preservation and production of such electronic evidence in Court.”
It is also worth noting that the Bench then made it quite clear that, “We are also of the considered view all Central agencies empowered under the NDPS Act to search and seize narcotic substance ought to comply with the aforesaid requirement of videography of recovery proceedings.”
As it turned out, the Bench then observed that, “Accordingly, it is proposed directive Nos. (i), (ii) and (iv) shall apply to all seizing officers of the Central agencies empowered to search and seize narcotics under NDPS Act. Directive Nos. (v) and (vi) shall apply to the head of the department of the Central agency concerned while Directive Nos. (iii) and (iv) shall apply to all superior officers of the said agency not below the rank as prescribed by the head of the department.”
Of course, the Bench then directs that, “Union of India including NCB shall submit response in this regard on the adjourned date.”
Furthermore, the Bench then specifies in the next para of this learned judgment that, “Director General of Police, West Bengal shall submit report with regard to the compliance of the aforesaid directions on the adjourned day.”
As we see, the Bench then directs that, “Let these matters appear two weeks hence.”
Furthermore, the Bench then also mandates in the next para that, “Registrar General shall communicate a copy of this order to the Union of India including NCB as well as on the Assistant Solicitor Generals of this Court and Director General of Police, West Bengal for necessary compliance.”
Finally, the Bench then aptly concludes by holding in the final para of this extremely laudable judgment that, “Presence of the Superintendent of Police, Murshidabad is noted and dispensed with at present.”
In a nutshell, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment is certainly worth emulating by all the Courts in India. No doubt, the Courts must always regularly ensure that the draconian provisions of NDPS Act are not misused which can put to trouble an innocent person which cannot be ever justified.
We thus see that the Calcutta High Court very rightly orders mandatory videography of recovery procedure in strict compliance with the rules as stated above. It definitely merits no reiteration that all the courts must definitely pay heed to what the Calcutta High Court has held in this leading case so very commendably, cogently and convincingly!
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Disproportionate assets case: Delhi High Court stays Lokpal proceedings initiated against Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren
On Monday, the Delhi High Court has stayed the proceedings initiated by Lokpal of India under the provisions of the Lokpal & Lokayuktas Act, 2013 against Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) Chief and Rajya Sabha MP Shibu Soren in connection with a disproportionate case of assets.
The bench comprising of Justice Yashwant Varma observed and has passed an order on Soren’s plea challenging the validity of the said proceedings, claiming that the same was ex facie bad in law and without jurisdiction.
In the present case, the proceedings were initiated by Lokpal of India pursuant to a complaint dated August 5, 2020 filed by BJP’s Nishikant Dubey. Therefore, it has been directed by the CBI to make a preliminary enquiry into the Complaint under section 20(1)(a) of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013. It was claimed by Soren that the said order was not served on him.
While claiming the complaint was false, frivolous and vexatious, Soren in his plea submitted that according to section 53 of the Act and there is a statutory bar against the Lokpal of India assuming jurisdiction to investigate or inquire into any Complaint made after the expiry of seven years from the offence alleged.
The plea reads that the initiation of the proceedings under the Complaint, or at the very least, continuation thereof, once it has been demonstrated by the preliminary inquiry that it pertains to alleged acquisitions prior to the 7-year period and is clearly barred by statute, without jurisdiction and the same is liable to be quashed.
Further, the petition filled submits that the maximum period of 180 days for completion of preliminary enquiry from the date of Complaint expired on February 1, 2021. In this backdrop, it has been stated that by this time, only on July 1, 2021, the comments were sought from Soren which is beyond the prescribed statutory period.
The plea adds that the final preliminary enquiry report was submitted by the CBI on 29.06.2022, about a year and a half after expiry of the 180- day period. Such purported report is void and null and non-est in the eyes of law and cannot be received or considered by the Respondent No.1.
Thus, the court took note of the order passed by Lokpal of India dated August 4, 2022 directing that proceedings under section 20(3) of the Lokpal Act be initiated to determine whether a prima facie case existed to be proceeded against Soren. It is Soren’s case that the order was passed without considering the preliminary objection on jurisdiction being raised by him.
In the said order, the court noted that all the Lokpal of India recorded was that the comments received from the petitioner were forwarded to CBI so as to examine and submit an enquiry report.
It was ordered by the court that the challenge to assumption of jurisdiction by respondent no. 1 (the Lokpal of India) has neither been answered and nor dealt with. Matters require consideration. Subsequently, there will be a stay of proceedings pending before the Lokayukta.
Accordingly, the court will now hear the matter on 14 December.
DELHI HC SETS ASIDE MURDER CONVICTION & LIFE SENTENCE OF MAN WHO WAS UNPRESENTED BY LAWYER; REMANDS CASTE BACK TO TRIAL COURT
The Delhi High Court in the case Narender @ Lala v. State Of NCT Of Delhi observed and has set aside the orders of conviction for murder and sentence of life imprisonment awarded to a man in 2018 who was unrepresented by a lawyer before the Trial Court. Thus, the Delhi High Court has remanded the case back to the Trial Court for cross examination of certain prosecution witnesses.
The division bench comprising of Justice Mukta Gupta and Justice Anish Dayal observed and was of the view that there had been a grave miscarriage of justice to the man as when number of witnesses were examined, he was not represented by a counsel and that the legal aid counsel, who was present before Trial Court and was appointed on the same day and asked to cross- examine the witnesses on the same day.
On March, 2018, Narender was convicted for offence of murder punishable under section 302 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. On 4th May, 2018, he was sentenced by the Trial Court for life imprisonment and also to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000.
In the present case, the case of the prosecution was that the man had committed murder of his wife by strangulating her to death.
In a appeal, it was argued by the man that during the substantial course of trial, he was not represented by a lawyer and hence the trial in the absence of a lawyer had seriously prejudiced him. He thus sought recalling of all the prosecution witnesses and thereby ensuring a fair trial.
The Court observed that the manner in which the trial is conducted, there was a serious denial of fair trial to the appellant and the appellant is required to be given an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses i.e., the witnesses examined in the absence of the lawyer, or the lawyer having been appointed on the same day from the legal aid and is asked to cross-examine the witnesses.
Further, the court remanded the back to Trial Court for cross-examination of ten prosecution witnesses. Also, the court directed the Trial Court Judge to follow due process of law and also to record the statement of the man under Section 313 CrPC and permit leading the defence evidence if so required.
The Court ordered that the case be listed before the learned Trial Court on 26th September, when Superintendent Tihar Jail will product the appellant before the learned Trial Court and the learned Trial Court is requested to expedite the trial and conclude the same preferably within four months.
SUPREME COURT REFUSES TO ENTERTAIN PLEA CHALLENGING EXCLUSION OF SC/ST RESERVATION IN JHARKHAND DISTRICT JUDGES APPOINTMENT
The Supreme Court in the case Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Educational And Cultural Trust v. Hon’ble High Court Jharkhand And Ors. observed and has refused to entertain a plea challenging the non-inclusion of reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes communities in the process of appointment of District Judges in pursuant to an advertisement issued in March, 2022 by the High Court of Jharkhand. The present petition claimed that the exclusion of reservation violates Jharkhand State Reservation Policy and constitutional guarantee under Article 16(4). Apart from this, it is also in derogation of a resolution being passed by the High Court vouching to implement reservation in the Jharkhand Superior Judicial Service.
The bench comprising of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and the Justice Hima Kohli observed and has granted liberty to the petitioner to file a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution before the Jharkhand High Court.
The court while considering that the process of appointment as per the concerned notification is underway, Justice Chandrachud asked the petitioner to approach the High Court with respect to future appointments.
It stated that “For the future you can file a petition before the High Court… We will give you liberty to approach the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution.”
The bench of Justice Chandrachud observed that the Decisions of the Administrative side of the High Court can be challenged before the judicial side of the High Court. You can move the High Court.
In the present case, a writ petition challenging a similar notification was filed in 2017 before the High Court, which was eventually dismissed. It was observed by the High Court that there is no duty vested in the authorities to reserve seats for all posts, more particularly in higher judiciary. Moreover, it had already initiated the appointment process, the High Court opined that it cannot alter the rules midway. Thus, the appeal filed before the Apex Court was also dismissed.
However, in 2018 the Full Court of the Jharkhand High Court had agreed in principle to grant reservation in the recruitment for Jharkhand Superior Judicial Service. The advocates belonging to the SC/ST/OBC communities in 2021 had made representations to the Chief Justice of the High Court requesting for the implementation of the Reservation policy in appointment of District Judges (direct entry from Bar)/ superior judicial service. The impugned notification was issued without incorporating reservation for SC/ST/OBC communities in March 2022.
Mr. Arvind Gupta, Advocate on Record has filled the present petition.
Right to contest election is not a fundamental right; it is only a right conferred by statute: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court in the case Vishwanath Pratap Singh vs Election Commission of India observed that the right to contest an election is not a fundamental right but only a right conferred by a statute.
The bench comprising of Justice Hemant Gupta and the Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia observed while dismissing a Special Leave Petition filed by Vishwanath Pratap Singh that an individual cannot claim that he has a right to contest election and the said stipulation violates his fundamental right, so as is required under the Act, to file his nomination without any proposer.
Also, the court imposed a cost of Rupees one lakh on Singh.
In the present case, Singh had first approached the Delhi High Court challenging a notification issued by Election Commission of India for election to Rajya Sabha after he was not allowed to file his nomination without a proper proposer being proposing his name. His contentions were rejected by the High Court that his fundamental right of free speech and expression and right to personal liberty has been infringed.
While dismissing the SLP, the Apex Court observed that the writ petition before the High Court was entirely misconceived.
The bench observed while referring to earlier judgments viz Javed v. State of Haryana, (2003) 8 SCC 369 and Rajbala v. State of Haryana (2016) 2 SCC 445 wherein it was stated that the right to contest an election is neither a fundamental right nor a common law right. It is a right conferred by a statute.
However, the Supreme Court in Javed (supra) had made the following observations: Right to contest an election is neither a fundamental right nor a common law right and it is a right conferred by a statute. At the most, in view of Part IX having been added in the Constitution of India that a right to contest election for an office in Panchayat may be said to be a constitutional right and a right originating in the Constitution and given shape by a statute. But even if, it cannot be equated with a fundamental right. It is stated that there is nothing wrong in the same statute which confers the right to contest an election also to provide for the necessary qualifications without which a person cannot offer his candidature for an elective office and also to provide for disqualifications which would disable a person from contesting for, or from holding, an elective statutory office.
It was held in Rajbala (supra) that the right to contest for a seat in either of the two bodies is subject to certain constitutional restrictions and could be restricted further only by a law which the parliament made.
Further, the court added that Singh did not have any right to contest election to the Rajya Sabha in terms of the law made by the Parliament.
The Court stated while dismissing the SLP that the Representation of People Act, 1950 read with the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 has contemplated the name of a candidate to be proposed while filling the nomination form. However, it cannot be claimed by an individual that he has a right to contest election and the said stipulation violates his fundamental right, so as to file his nomination without any proposer as is required under the Act.
Post-conviction compounding of offences is permissible: Himachal Pradesh High Court
The Himachal Pradesh High Court in the case Shri Kantu Ram v Shri Beer Singh recently observed that a court, while exercising powers under Section 147 of the Negotiable Instruments Act and can proceed to compound the offences even after recording of conviction by the courts below.
The bench comprising of Justice Sandeep Sharma observed in a case where the revision Petitioner, who was convicted under Section 138 of the NI Act by the Magistrate Court and was aggrieved by subsequent dismissal of appeal by the Sessions Court and had agreed to pay the amount due and settle the matter.
Thus, the petitioner had sought compounding of offences.
In the present case, the respondent admitted the factum with regard to receipt of the amount due from the accused and expressed that the prayer made on behalf of accused for compounding of offence can be accepted.
However, the High Court allowed the prayer and the offence committed by the Petitioner under Section 138 NI Act was ordered to be compounded.
The Court observed that the Reliance was placed on Damodar S. Prabhu V. Sayed Babalal H. (2010) 5 SCC 663, wherein the Apex Court has categorically held that court, while exercising power under Section 147 of the NI Act and can proceed to compound the offence even after recording of the conviction by the courts below.
‘Pensionary benefits to employee, who is removed from service for misconduct, is not at par with those who retire on superannuation’
The Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court in the case Bashir Ahmad Wani v Jammu and Kashmir Grameen Bank and Another recently observed and stated that an employee who is removed from service for misconduct is not at par with those who is being retired on superannuation.
The bench comprising of Justice Sanjeev Kumar observed while dismissing the pension claim made by a former employee of the J&K Grameen Bank, who was removed from service in 2011.
In the present case, the petitioner had sought benefit of the J&K Grameen Bank (Employees) Pension Regulations, 2018 whereby provision was made for terminal benefits.
However, the court disallowed the claims on two grounds:
Firstly, that at the time of removal of the petitioner from service when there were no norms, rules or regulations providing for the benefit of pension to the employees of the respondent-Bank.
In the year 2011, the employees of the respondent-Bank were governed by the J&K Grameen Bank ( the Officers and Employees) Service Regulations, 2010… it is abundantly clear that it does not prescribe imposition of a penalty of removal along with the pensionary benefits.
Secondly, it was opined by the court that though the 2018 Regulations had been made applicable to those employees who were in service between 1st day of September, 1987 and 31st day of March, 2010 and the employees retired from the services of the Bank before 31st day of March, 2018, however, this leeway cannot come to aid of the Petitioner.
The Curt observed that the reason for finding that the Petitioner was not an employee who had “retired” on superannuation from the bank. Rather, he was “removed” for misconduct.
The Court stated that the regulations apply to those employees who retired from the service of the Bank before 31.03.2018 and not the employees who were terminated for misconduct. Viewed thus, the order of removal of the petitioner dated 02.09.2011 holding the petitioner entitled to terminable benefits and cannot, by any stretch of reasoning, be construed to be an order of removal with the benefit of the pension. Neither, the petitioner, at the time of his removal from service, nor with the promulgation of Pension Regulations of 2018, is entitled to the benefit of pension.
Accordingly, the court dismissed the petition.
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