New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday said that people dealing in narcotic drugs are instruments in inflicting death blow to innocent young victims who are vulnerable and cause deleterious effects on the society.
Smuggling of narcotics and psychotropic substances into the country and their illegal trafficking leads to drug addiction among a sizeable section of the public, particularly adolescents of both sexes, and the menace has assumed serious and alarming proportions, the apex court said.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah said this in its judgement while dismissing an appeal filed against the November 2019 verdict of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The high court had upheld the order passed by a trial court convicting a man found in possession of 1 kg heroin, for the offence punishable under the provision of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and sentenced him to jail for 15 years along with a fine of Rs 2 lakh.
In its verdict, the top court said that while awarding sentence in case of NDPS Act, the interest of the society as a whole is also required to be taken in consideration.
While considering the submission on behalf of the accused on mitigating and aggravating circumstances…it should be borne in mind that in a murder case, the accused commits murder of one or two persons, while those persons who are dealing in narcotic drugs are instruments in causing death or in inflicting death blow to number of innocent young victims who are vulnerable; it cause deleterious effects and deadly impact on the society; they are hazard to the society, the bench said.
The top court further said, Organized activities of the underworld and the clandestine smuggling of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances into this country and illegal trafficking in such drugs and substances shall lay to drug addiction among a sizeable section of the public, particularly the adolescents and students of both sexes and the menace has assumed serious and alarming proportions in the recent years.
The bench referred to its December last year order and noted that it had refused to interfere with the conviction of the accused for offence punishable under section 21 of the NDPS Act in the case and had issued notice confined to the question of sentence.
The counsel appearing for appellant had argued before the bench that minimum sentence provided in section 21 of the NDPS Act is 10 years and the accused was a poor person, a first-time convict and was only a carrier.
The counsel appearing for the state had argued that the accused was found to be in possession of 1 kg heroin which is much higher than the commercial quantity and neither the trial court nor the high court have committed any error in imposing the punishment of 15 years.
Therefore, quantity of substance would fall into such factors as it may deem fit’ and while exercising its discretion of imposing the sentence/imprisonment higher than the minimum, if the court has taken into consideration such factor of larger/higher quantity of substance, it cannot be said that the court has committed an error, the bench said.
It said that while considering the request made on behalf of the accused to award lesser punishment and to take lenient view, the trial court had taken into consideration the relevant facts or factors while not imposing the maximum punishment of 20 years.
Submission on behalf of the accused that the main supplier has not been apprehended/arrested and the appellant is a carrier only cannot be a ground to interfere with the sentence imposed by the special court confirmed by the high court. In most of the cases the main supplier, who may be from outside country may not be apprehended and/or arrested, the apex court said.
Once the accused is found to be in illegal possession of the narcotic substance/drugs, if in the circumstances so warranted, can be awarded the sentence higher than the minimum prescribed/provided under the Act, it said.
The bench noted that before the NDPS Act 1965 was enacted, the statutory control over narcotic drugs was exercised in India through number of Central and State enactments — The Opium Act 1857, The Opium Act 1878 and The Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930.
It noted that with the passage of time and developments in the field of illicit drug traffic and drug abuse at national and international level, it was noticed and found that the scheme of penalties under these Acts were not sufficiently deterrent to meet the challenge of well-organized gangs of smugglers.
Therefore, while striking balance between the mitigating and aggravating circumstances, public interest, impact on the society as a whole will always be tilt in favour of the suitable higher punishment, the bench said.
Therefore, merely because the accused is a poor man and/or a carrier and/or is a sole bread earner cannot be such mitigating circumstances in favour of the accused while awarding the sentence/punishment in the case of NDPS Act, it said.