New Delhi: The narcotics angle to Sushant Singh Rajput’s death culminated in his actor-girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty being arrested Tuesday afternoon by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB). After three days of questioning, she was charged for offences under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985.
Chakraborty was remanded to a 14-day judicial custody as the court allowed an application filed by the NCB in the case registered against her. The court also rejected the actor’s bail application.
The NCB alleged that Chakraborty used to procure drugs for actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who was found dead in his residence in Mumbai on 14 June.
But what does the 1985 law say? What is the maximum penalty that Chakraborty might be looking at if found guilty? ThePrint finds out.
What the law says
The NDPS Act is meant to “make stringent provisions for the control and regulation of operations relating to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances”, among other things.
Under its purview, a wide range of drugs and psychotropic substances, including cannabis, ganja, heroin and opium, are considered illegal. The law, however, does not apply to bhang.
The formation of this 1985 law can be traced back to the Single Convention of Narcotic Drugs in New York in 1961. India was a signatory to this convention which gave parties a maximum of 25 years to “completely abolish” non-medical use of cannabis, among other things.
The law is also believed to have been enacted by the Rajiv Gandhi government, amid international pressure, especially with the ‘War on Drugs’ campaign that was led by then US President Richard Nixon.
The NDPS Act has since been amended thrice — in 1988, 2001 and 2014.
The maximum punishment under the Act is death penalty. It is allowed under Section 31 A of the law, which was inserted through the 1988 amendment, and says that such a punishment can be given on the discretion of a judge for repeat offenders.
It also lists the sections under which a previous offender should be convicted and the minimum quantity of psychotropic or narcotic substance that should be found from her or his possession in order to hand down a death penalty.
Uttarakhand became the first state in India to legalise the growth of cannabis in 2017, though for medicinal and industrial purposes only.
What is the Narcotics Control Bureau
Under Section 4(3) of the NDPS Act, the central government can form an authority to exercise its powers for preventing and combating abuse of and illicit traffic in narcotic drugs.
The government subsequently constituted the Narcotics Control Bureau on 17 March 1986.
According to the NCB website, the agency is tasked with coordinating with the state governments and other authorities, under NDPS Act, Customs Act, Drugs and Cosmetics Act and any other law, for the enforcement of the provisions of the NDPS Act.
The NCB also coordinates “actions taken by the other concerned ministries, departments and organisations in respect of matters relating to drug abuse”.
What provisions has Chakraborty been booked under
Chakraborty has reportedly been booked under Sections 8(c), 20(b)(ii), 22, 27 A, 28, 29 of the NDPS Act.
Section 8(c) of the Act bars production, manufacture, sale, purchase, transportation and consumption of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substances.
Section 20(b)(ii) of the law allows punishment for production, sale, purchase, etc., of cannabis. It says that anybody caught with a small quantity of the drug can be punished with rigorous imprisonment of up to six months and a fine of up to Rs 10,000.
A 1,000 gm (1 kg) ganja is considered as “small quantity“, according to a notification issued by the central government.
While no drugs have been found on Chakraborty as well as her brother Showik, the NCB’s case so far has hinged on the discovery of 59 grams of curated marijuana from two men identified as Abbas Lakhani and Karan Arora and the links they allegedly had with those close to Rajput.
Section 22 of the Act lists similar punishment for contravention of provisions on psychotropic substances.
Section 27A, meanwhile, allows punishment for “financing illicit traffic and harboring offenders”, and a jail term of 10 years to 20 years along with a fine of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh.
Sections 28 and 29 deal with attempts to commit offences, abetment and criminal conspiracy.
Has the law been effective?
Criticism of the law has centered around the state being placed as a “moral guardian vis-a-vis the citizens”.
Debates have also been made on the stringent bail conditions under the law, which says that an accused person is not to be released on bail unless a court has reasonable grounds to believe that she or he is not guilty and not likely to commit an offence while on bail. This makes getting bail under the Act extremely difficult.
Researchers have also pointed out that the Act incorporates stringent provisions through strict liability, i.e. they require no intention of committing a crime. The burden of proof is on the purported offenders.
The law does make a distinction between individual drug consumers and drug traffickers — the former can be diverted to rehabilitation, while the latter are subject to strict penal action.
Section 39 of the NDPS Act allows courts to release an addict for treatment if found guilty of consumption of drugs, under Section 27 of the Act.
However, the fact that consumption of drugs is still prima facie criminalised is one of the reasons why the law has been blamed for not achieving its objectives of deterrence and rehabilitation.