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Smoke, snort, poof! Govt's lethargy in providing storage vaults for seized contraband will cost us dearly

By Rakesh Bhatnagar

The willful inertia shown by successive governments in states and at the Centre in providing lawful storage vaults for quintals of seized contraband including brown sugar, excitement evoking pills, smack, ganja (marijuana) and heroine is responsible for spreading drug addiction in the country.

Though the Union government in 1989 issued a notification making it mandatory for keeping the seized narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances in safe custody and their disposal at end of the trial of accused drug peddlers, the state and central government agencies like police, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, CBI and Narcotics Control Bureau haven’t attended to this requirement resulting in the menace of drug addiction assuming “alarming dimensions and proportions”.

Trends in drug seizures

In a major judgment two days ago, the Supreme Court ordered the setting up of ‘drugs disposal committees’ by all the concerned agencies in states and Union government to ensure disposal of tons of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances which have been lying in neglect at various dilapidated make-shift store rooms or ‘malkhana’ of police stations across the country.

It may be pointed out that data produced before the Supreme Court last year revealed that of the 60 lakh kg of narcotics and drugs confiscated across the country over the last 10 years, only 16 lakh kg was destroyed and the remaining 44 lakh kg was mysteriosuly “missing”.

Representative image. Reuters

Representative image. Reuters

This data is related to only 10 years and one can assess the quantity of narcotics pilfered from the so called safe custody and circulated in the open national and international markets at a whopping price.

A bench of Chief Justice Tirath Singh Thakur and Justice Kurian Joseph remarked that “the menace is deep rooted not only because drug lords have the money power and transnational links but also because the enforcement agencies like the police and at times politicians in power help them in carrying on what is known to be a money spinning and flourishing trade”.

This judgment is a fall out of an appeal filed by Union of India four years ago challenging a Madhya Pradesh High Court judgment that had acquitted one Mohan Lal on the ground of paucity of evidence regarding the destruction of the 3.36 Kgs of opium allegedly seized from him.

In the absence of any evidence to show that the seized contraband was destroyed as per the prevalent procedure, the contraband should have been produced before the Trial Court. The failure to produce the seized the seized opium by the prosecution “implies a failure to prove the seizure of the contraband from his possession”.

Cases reported under NDPS act

Arrests under NDPS Act

Convictions under NDPS Act

A lawyer Ajit Kumar Sinha, who assisted the court in this matter, has drawn the attention of judges that not only traditional drugs like, opium, poppy husk, charas etc. but other drugs and “modern narcotic substances” were also awaiting disposal which includes 39 lakh sedatives and narcotic tablets, 1.10 lakh capsules, over 21,000 drug syrups and 1828 sedative injections apart from 8 kgs of smack and 84 kgs of ganja. This haul was only in Bathinda, Punjab.

The court realized on the basis of sketchy data provided by various states and central and state government agencies that 99.53 % of the seized contraband estimated to be of unspecified cost was still in the custody of investigating agencies who complain that there’s acute shortage of store rooms , over stuffing of malkhanas which house all sorts of stolen goods, and dilapidated rented rooms which are used as store rooms.

The court on its part found that the total destruction of contraband in the last 10 years was only 132.375 Kg. The total amount of contraband still in custody of the authorities was 28207.672 Kgs, i.e. 99.53% of the seized amount was stated to be in custody of police and other investigating agencies across the country .

The cumulative effect of the reports submitted by the States and the Central agencies was that only 16% of the contraband seized during 2002 and 2012 had been actually disposed of.

“What happened to the remaining 84% of such seizures is anybody’s guess and if it is still lying in the police maalkhana, why has nobody ever bothered to apply for their disposal according to the procedure established by law is hard to fathom”, Judges raised brows on this serious lapse which could be responsible for aggravating the drug menace in the country.

In a bid to end the perennial problem of suspected misappropriation of drugs haul which has been pathetically stored in police custody, the apex court has ordered that the DDCs “shall take stock of all such seized contrabands and take steps for their disposal without any further verification, testing or sampling whatsoever”.

Judges said that there’s no doubt that the process of making any application for sampling and certification cannot be left to the whims of the officers concerned”.

While directing the states and Union government to expeditiously provide vaults for storing the seized contraband under three locks, the top court also expressed anguish at the utter neglect of this aspect by all the governments past 26 years when a notification was issued for this provision in 1989.

“What has defied our understanding is the neglect on the part of the Central Government and its agencies and the State Governments in realizing the importance of the storage facilities and in providing for the same to prevent hazardous and at times lethal substances with great potential to do harm to those who use the same from being replaced, pilfered, stolen or siphoned out on account of very poor supervision, control or invigilation over such storage facilities”, the top court added.

This menace has increased “partly because of the ineffective and lackadaisical enforcement of the laws and procedures and cavalier manner in which the agencies and at times Magistracy in this country addresses a problem of such serious dimensions”, the apex court added.

Charts by Kishor Kadam

Updated Date: Feb 03, 2016 11:28 AM

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