Supreme Court Affirms Article 20(3) Integrity Amidst NDPS Act Search and Seizure

Supreme Court upholds Article 20(3) in NDPS Act case. Lack of written info led to search violation. Accused acquitted. Case: Smt. Najmunisha vs. State of Gujarat.

The recent pronouncement by the Supreme Court, dated April 9th, underscored the inviolability of Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution amidst the legal framework of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (Act). Article 20(3) guarantees that no individual accused of any crime shall be compelled to testify against themselves.

"In the instant case, we are primarily affected by virtue of the jurisprudence of Section 41(2) of the NDPS Act 1985, which begins from the power of search and seizure conferred by the State upon its executive or administrative arms for the protection of social security in any civilized nation. Such power is inherently limited by the recognition of fundamental rights by the Constitution as well as statutory limitations. At the same time, it is not legitimate to assume that Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India would be affected by the provisions of search and seizure,” remarked Justices Aniruddha Bose and Augustine George Masih in their judgment.

Further elaborating on this aspect, the Division Bench emphasized that the authority to conduct searches and seizures constitutes a temporary interference with the rights of the accused. The Court reasoned that reasonable restrictions to this power are explicitly outlined within the provisions themselves.

The court added: “Thence, such a power cannot be considered as a violation of any fundamental rights of the person concerned.” In support of this observation, the Court referred to the case of MP Sharma v. Satish Chandra Sharma, District Magistrate, Delhi 1954 SCR 1077, which reiterated a similar finding.

In the present case, the Court overturned the convictions of the accused individuals under the Act due to non-compliance with Section 41 by the competent authorities. Section 41 empowers the competent officer to effect arrests or conduct searches based on a reasonable belief that an offense requiring a search has been committed. This belief must arise from personal knowledge of the officer or information given to them, as stipulated in Section 41(2) of the Act.

However, in the present case, the raiding party failed to possess the requisite written information, as mandated by the Act, before commencing the search in the accused's residence. Moreover, there was neither personal knowledge nor any other substantial information prompting the search of the accused's home, aside from the vague intelligence that an auto-rickshaw was carrying contraband.

Highlighting these discrepancies, the Court recognized the statutory safeguards granted to the accused and how these safeguards were disregarded by the authorities in the present case. Consequently, the Court concluded that the search conducted in this instance contravened the statutory mandate of Section 41(2) of the Act.

“… the secret information, as received by Mrs. Chaube in the present facts was limited to the apprehension that Accused No. 04 was to carry contraband via an auto-rickshaw from a particular route. There is no reference to the apprehension of the existence of contraband in the house of the Accused No. 04 in the said recorded information. Thence, the raid at the house of the Accused No. 01 and Accused No. 04 is in violation of the statutory mandate of Section 41(2) of the NDPS Act 1985…”

Consequently, the Court accorded the benefit of doubt to the accused persons and annulled the impugned judgments of their conviction.