Despite high acquittal rate, SOP not being followed in handling cases under NDPSA

State fails to designate fast track courts for speedy trial
FSL remains deprived of sufficient scientific experts

Mohinder Verma

JAMMU, Aug 20: Minimising acquittals in cases registered under Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act has remained a dream in Jammu and Kashmir as Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) framed nearly three years back is still not being followed strictly by the Jammu and Kashmir Police and other concerned departments of the State.
There are stringent provisions in the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 for the offences related to drug abuse and trafficking. Despite the fact that major offences under the Act are non-bailable, in large number of cases the drug offenders secure acquittal mainly due to non-compliance of mandatory provisions by the investigating officials.
This was viewed seriously by the Division Bench of the State High Court in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) titled Court on its Own Motion Versus State and Others and accordingly certain directions were passed to the State to ensure that investigation is conducted in a proper and professional manner by adhering to the mandatory provisions of the Act.
Acting on the directives of the High Court, the Home Department vide Circular No.02 dated September 25, 2017 enjoined upon all the officers entrusted with the investigation in NDPSA cases to strictly adhere to the provisions of the Act and follow the Standard Operating Procedure formulated by the State Crime Branch.
“However, there is no perceptible improvement in the conviction rate under NDPSA cases and acquittals are still taking place as Standard Operating Procedure is not being strictly followed by the Jammu and Kashmir Police and other concerned departments of the State”, official sources told EXCELSIOR.
“Notwithstanding major thrust in the SOP on the creation of team of dedicated officers in the field of narcotics law enforcement, no serious attention is being paid towards honing the skills of personnel involved in drug law enforcement”, they said, adding “in this way the objective of placing specially trained personnel in each police station has remained a dream till date”.
They further said, “no doubt police personnel are being provided training in effectively handling NDPSA cases but the number is far less than the required one”, adding “in the SOP it has specifically been mentioned that training courses be organized in such a way that at least 400 officers undergo basic course and 200 officers undergo refresher courses annually”. Had this been done 1800 specialised trained officers would have been available for effectively handling the NDPSA cases during the past three years.
Similarly, no serious attention has so far been paid towards another important aspect of SOP as per which a panel of gazetted officers from the civil departments, an FSL expert, Executive Magistrate and an expert from the Department of Weight and Measures was to be kept prepared through an administrative order for carrying out legal formalities by visiting the spot of seizure of narcotics.
“As per SOP reports of all contrabands seized is required to be forwarded within 48 hours of such seizure to the Director General of Narcotics Control Bureau on the prescribed form but this is not being done in majority of the cases as if SOP was prepared just for the sake of formality”, sources further informed.
Stating that lack of material witnesses is still one of the major reasons behind acquittals in the NDPSA cases, they said, “this is notwithstanding the fact that in the SOP emphasis has been laid on associating respectable citizens of the area present on the spot of recovery or seizure as material witnesses in order to ensure transparency and sanctity of the investigation”.
“Even no effort has so far been made to make available required number of scientific experts in the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in order to ensure effective and timely disposal of cases under examination and maintain credibility and minimize delays”, they said, adding “moreover, communication of the High Court regarding designation of fast track courts for conducting exclusive trials of these cases is gathering dust in the Department of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs during the past quite long time”.
The SOP states: “Keeping in view the large number of cases under the NDPS Act, the Government shall designate fast track courts in all districts of the State for conducting exclusive trials and achieve the desired results as there are still a considerable good number of cases under trial in various courts”.
There are several other points of the SOP on which no action has been taken by the concerned authorities as a result of which minimizing acquittals in NDPSA cases has remained a distant dream.