Supreme Court Overturns Conviction in NDPS Case, Citing Procedural Lapses

Supreme Court overturns NDPS Act conviction due to procedural lapses, citing lack of written information and continuity in search. Case: Smt. Najmunisha vs. State of Gujarat.

The Supreme Court made a significant decision on April 9 regarding a case involving the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. In this case, the Court overturned the conviction of the accused individuals. This decision came as a result of rejecting the interpretation of Section 41 of the Act presented by the National Bureau of Narcotics.

Section 41 of the Act grants authority to a competent officer to make arrests or conduct searches if they have a reasonable belief that a crime necessitating a search has been committed. This belief can stem from personal knowledge or information provided by others, which must be documented in writing. However, in the case at hand, the raiding party did not possess written information before conducting the search on the accused's premises. Despite arguments from the National Bureau of Narcotics suggesting that written information is unnecessary when it arises from personal knowledge, the Court disagreed.

"The Court stated that the expressions 'personal knowledge' and 'and taken in writing' in Section 41(2) should not be separated, meaning written information is required even if the officer's knowledge is personal."

To support its decision, the Court referenced a previous case, State of Punjab v. Balbir Singh (1994) 3 SCC 299, emphasizing the importance of recording reasons, particularly when an officer personally believes that an offense has occurred and a search is necessary during specific hours. Failure to comply with these requirements can affect the prosecution's case.

In the case under review, an Intelligence Officer received secret information about an individual carrying narcotics in an auto-rickshaw. Despite reporting this to a superior officer, when the raiding team attempted to apprehend the accused, they fled. Subsequently, the team found an abandoned vehicle and conducted a search, leading to the arrest of several individuals. Although the Trial Court convicted three of the accused, the Supreme Court found procedural faults and overturned the convictions.

The Court highlighted that the search conducted at the accused's house lacked personal knowledge or any other information to justify it. The information received by the officer was limited to the presence of contraband in an auto-rickshaw, with no indication of possession at the accused's residence.

"In the Court's view, the raid on the accused's house lacked statutory compliance and was not based on personal knowledge, thereby violating the NDPS Act 1985."

Additionally, the Court noted the failure of authorities to adhere to statutory safeguards and reiterated that search and seizure powers are temporary measures with reasonable restrictions, not violations of fundamental rights.

Furthermore, the Court referred to Section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, discussing the relevancy of facts within the same transaction. It cited Gentela Vijyvardhan Rao and Anr. v. State of Andhra Pradesh (1996) 6 SCC 241, emphasizing the immediacy of statements or facts related to the issue at hand. However, in this case, there was a considerable gap between the abandonment of the vehicle and the subsequent search, indicating a lack of continuity.

"Moreover, the purpose of searching the house was for additional contraband recovery, not apprehending the absconded accused, further indicating a break in the search's continuity."

The Court also raised doubts about the prosecution's case, noting the failure to identify the auto-rickshaw's owner or the person associated with the driver's license found at the scene.

"Due to inconsistencies and procedural lapses, the Court concluded that the case against accused No. 4 was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

Consequently, the Court set aside the convictions and gave the benefit of doubt to the accused individuals.