The presumption against the accused of culpability under Section 35, and under Section 54 of the Act to explain possession satisfactorily, are rebuttable. It does not dispense with the obligation of the prosecution to prove the charge beyond all reasonable doubt. The presumptive provision with reverse burden of proof, does not sanction conviction on basis of preponderance of probability. Section 35(2) provides that a fact can be said to have been proved if it is established beyond reasonable doubt and not on preponderance of probability. That the right of the accused to a fair trial could not be whittled down under the Act was considered in Noor Aga v. State of Punjab [2008 (16) SCC 417] observing:
“58. … An initial burden exists upon the prosecution and only when it stands satisfied, would the legal burden shift. Even then, the standard of proof required for the accused to prove his innocence is not as high as that of the prosecution. Whereas the standard of proof required to prove the guilt of the accused on the prosecution is “beyond all reasonable doubt” but it is “preponderance of probability” on the accused. If the prosecution fails to prove the foundational facts so as to attract the rigours of Section 35 of the Act, the actus reus which is possession of contraband by the accused cannot be said to have been established.
With a view to bring within its purview the requirements of Section 54 of the Act, element of possession of the contraband was essential so as to shift the burden on the accused. The provisions being exceptions to the general rule, the generality thereof would continue to be operative, namely, the element of possession will have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.”
The stringent provisions of the NDPS Act, such as Section 37, the minimum sentence of 10 years, absence of any provision for remission do not dispense with the requirements of prosecution to establish a prima facie case beyond reasonable doubt after investigation, only where after which the burden of proof shall shift to the accused. The gravity of the sentence and the stringency of the provisions will therefore call for a heightened scrutiny of the evidence for establishment of foundational facts by the prosecution.
- Noor Aga v. State of Punjab [JT 2008 (7) SC 409] (Para 9)
- Gopal v. State of Madhya Pradesh [2002 (9) SCC 595] (Para 4)