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What are the procedural safeguards must be followed under NDPS Act

Procedural safeguard under NDPS Act

It is now also well settled that the provisions of the NDPS Act being harsh in nature, the procedural safeguards contained therein must scrupulously be complied therewith.

It was so held by a Constitution Bench of this Court in State of Punjab v. Baldev Singh (1999) 6 SCC 172)) in the following terms :

“57. On the basis of the reasoning and discussion above, the following conclusions arise :

(1) That when an empowered officer or a duly authorized officer acting on prior information is about to search a person, it is imperative for him to inform the person concerned of his right under sub-section (1) of Section 50 of being taken to the nearest gazetted officer or the nearest Magistrate for making the search. However, such information may not necessarily be in writing.

(2) That failure to inform the person concerned about the existence of his right to be searched before a gazetted officer or a Magistrate would cause prejudice to an accused.

(3) That a search made by an empowered officer, on prior information, without informing the person of his right that if he so requires, he shall be taken before a gazetted officer or a Magistrate for search and in case he so opts, failure to conduct his search before a gazetted officer or a Magistrate, may not vitiate the trial but would render the recovery of the illicit article suspect and vitiate the conviction and sentence of an accused, where the conviction has been recorded only on the basis of the possession of the illicit article, recovered from his person, during a search conducted in violation of the provisions of Section 50 of the Act.

(4) That there is indeed need to protect society from criminals. The societal intent in safety will suffer if persons who commit crimes are let off because the evidence against them is to be treated as if it does not exist. The answer, therefore, is that the investigating agency must follow the procedure as envisaged by the statute scrupulously and the failure to do so must be viewed by the higher authorities seriously inviting action against the official concerned so that the laxity on the part of the investigating authority is curbed. In every case the end result is important but the means to achieve it must remain above board. The remedy cannot be worse than the disease itself. The legitimacy of the judicial process may come under a cloud if the Court is seen to condone acts of lawlessness conducted by the investigating agency during search operations and may also undermine respect for the law and may have the effect of unconscionably compromising the administration of justice. That cannot be permitted. An accused is entitled to a fair trial. A conviction resulting from an unfair trial is contrary to our concept of justice. The use of evidence collected in breach of the safeguards provided by Section 50 at the trial, would render the trial unfair.

(5) That whether or not the safeguards provided in Section 50 have been duly observed would have to be determined by the Court on the basis of the evidence led at the trial. Finding on that issue, one way or the other, would be relevant for recording an order of conviction or acquittal. Without giving an opportunity to the prosecution to establish, at the trial, that the provisions of Section 50 and, particularly, the safeguards provided therein were duly complied with, it would not be permissible to cut short a criminal trial.

(6) That in the Context in which the protection has been incorporated in Section 50 for the benefit of the person intended to be searched, we do not express any opinion whether the provisions of Section 50 are mandatory or directory, but hold that failure to inform the person concerned of his right as emanating from sub-section (1) of Section 50, may render the recovery of the contraband suspect and the conviction and sentence of an accused bad and unsustainable in law.

(7) That an illicit article seized from the person of an accused during search conducted in violation of the safeguards pro vided in Section 50 of the Act cannot be used as evidence of proof of unlawful possession of the contraband on the accused though any other material recovered during that search may be relied upon by the prosecution, in other proceedings, against an accused, notwithstanding the recovery of that material during an illegal search.

(8) A presumption under Section 54 of the Act can only be raised after the prosecution has established that the accused was found to be in possession of the contraband in a search conducted in accordance with the mandate of Section 50. An illegal search cannot entitle the prosecution to raise a presumption under Section 54 of the Act.”

(See also Noor Aga v. State of Punjab and Another (2008) 9 SCALE 681) and Ranu Premji v. Customs Ner Shillong Unit (2009) 7 SCALE 568))

In Baldev Singh (supra), this Court noticed Miranda v. Arizona (384 US 436) in the following terms :

“30. In D. K. Basu case the Court also noticed the response of the Supreme Court of the United States of America to such an argument in Miranda v. Arizona wherein that Court had said (SCC pp. 434-35, para 33) :

“The Latin maxim salus populi suprema lex (the safety of the people is the supreme law) and salus republicae suprema lex (safety of the State is the supreme law) coexist and are not only important and relevant but lie at the heart of the doctrine that the welfare of an individual must yield to that of the community. The action of the State, however, must be ‘right, just and fair’.”

in State of Punjab v. Balbir Singh (1994) 3 SCC 299), this Court observed as under :

“10. It is thus clear that by a combined reading of Sections 41, 42, 43 and 51 of the NDPS Act and Section 4 CrPC regarding arrest and search under Sections 41, 42 and 43, the provisions of CrPC namely Sections 100 and 165 would be applicable to such arrest and search. Consequently the principles laid down by various Courts as discussed above regarding the irregularities and illegalities in respect of arrest and search would equally be applicable to the arrest and search under the NDPS Act also depending upon the facts and circumstances of each case.

11. But there are certain other embargoes envisaged under Sections 41 and 42 of the NDPS Act. Only a Magistrate so empowered under Section 41 can issue a warrant for arrest and search where he has reason to believe that an offence under Chapter IV has been committed so on and so forth as mentioned therein. Under sub-section (2) only a Gazetted Officer or other officers mentioned and empowered therein can give an authorization to a subordinate to arrest and search if such officer has reason to believe about the commission of an offence and after reducing the information, if any, into writing. Under Section 42 only officers mentioned therein and so empowered can make the arrest or search as provided if they have reason to believe from personal knowledge or information. In both these provisions there are two important requirements. One is that the Magistrate or the officers mentioned therein firstly be empowered and they must have reason to believe that an offence under Chapter IV has been committed or that such arrest or search was necessary for other purposes mentioned in the provision. So far as the first requirement is concerned, it can be seen that the Legislature intended that only certain Magistrates and certain officers of higher rank and empowered can act to effect the arrest or search. This is a safeguard provided having regard to the deterrent sentences contemplated and with a view that innocent persons are not harassed. Therefore if an arrest or search contemplated under these provisions of NDPS Act has to be carried out, the same can be done only by competent and empowered Magistrates or officers mentioned there-under.

12- Nand Lal v. State of Rajasthan is a case where a police head constable and a station house officer were not empowered to carry out investigation and it was contended that the whole investigation was illegal and consequently the trial was vitiated. The Rajasthan High Court held that for launching the prosecution or for initiating the proceedings under the Act, the authority doing so must have a clear and unambiguous power. In Bhajan Singh v. State of Haryana it was observed that only officers empowered under the Act can take steps regarding entry, search, seizure and arrest and that the relevant provisions of the Act are mandatory. In Umrao v. State of Rajasthan it was held that the search made by a police constable without jurisdiction and investigation made by an officer not empowered, vitiate the trial. In Shanti Lal v. State of Rajasthan it was similarly held that search and arrest made by SHO who was not authorised under the Act, were illegal.”

We must, however, notice that  a Constitution Bench of this Court in Karnail Singh v. State of Haryana (2009) 10 SCALE 255) in view of difference of opinion in Abdul Rashid Ibrahim Mansuri v. State of Gujarat ((2000) 2 SCC 513) opining that compliance of Section 42 of NDPS Act is mandatory in nature and in Sajan Abraham v. State of Kerala ((2001) 6 SCC 692) holding the said principle to be directory, opined as under :

“(a) The officer on receiving the information (of the nature referred to in sub-section (1) of Section 42) from any person had to record it in writing in the concerned Register and forthwith send a copy to his immediate official superior, before proceeding to take action in terms of clauses (a) to (d) of Section 42(1).

(b) But if the information was received when the officer was not in the police station, but while he was on the move either on patrol duty or otherwise, either by mobile phone, or other means, and the information calls for immediate action and any delay would have resulted in the goods or evidence being removed or destroyed, it would not be feasible or practical to take down in writing the information given to him, in such a situation, he could take action as per clauses (a) to (d) of Section 42(1) and thereafter, as soon as it is practical, record the information in writing and forthwith inform the same to the official superior.

(c) In other words, the compliance with the requirements of Sections 42 (1) and 42(2) in regard to writing down the information received and sending a copy thereof to the superior officer, should normally precede the entry, search and seizure by the officer. But in special circumstances involving emergent situations, the recording of the information in writing and sending a copy thereof to the official superior may get postponed by a reasonable period, that is after the search, entry and seizure. The question is one of urgency and expediency.

(d) While total non-compliance of requirements of sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 42 is impermissible, delayed compliance with satisfactory explanation about the delay will be acceptable compliance of Section 42. To illustrate, if any delay may result in the accused escaping or the goods or evidence being destroyed or removed, not recording in writing the information received, before initiating action, or non-sending a copy of such information to the official superior forthwith, may not be treated as violation of Section 42. But if the information was received when the police officer was in the police station with sufficient time to take action, and if the police officer fails to record in writing the information received, or fails to send a copy thereof, to the official superior, then it will be a suspicious circumstance being a clear violation of Section 42 of the Act. Similarly, where the police officer does not record the information at all, and does not inform the official superior at all, then also it will be a clear violation of Section 42 of the Act. Whether there is adequate or substantial compliance with Section 42 or not is a question of fact to be decided in each case. The above position got strengthened with the amendment to Section 42 by Act 9 of 2001.”

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