The government proposes to drop the mandatory death penalty provision for drug offences through an amendment of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.
"In view of the observations of the Standing Committee on Finance made in its report on the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2011, it is proposed to amend Section 31A of the NDPS Act and replace the words 'shall be punishable with death' with the words 'may be punishable with death'," finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday told Rajya Sabha in a written reply.
The NDPS Act, 1985 has provision for a graded system of punishment, with the quantum of punishment varying with the quantity of drug or substance involved in a case, he said.
The Bombay high court had in June 2011 held that the Section relating to mandatory death penalty was violative of Article 21 of the Constitution (right to life).
However, the court's verdict was given for the accused convicted twice for the offense.
The court had observed that second conviction in NDPS case need not be death penalty and it was the sole discretion of the judge of the special court to decide about the capital punishment.
The Rajya Sabha was told there was a surge in the number of people prosecuted under the NDPS Act in the last three years and decline in the cases of conviction.
As many as 20,364 people were prosecuted in 2011 for their involvement in offenses under the Act as against 19,720 in 2010 and 19,377 in 2009, Mukherjee said.
Whereas, 7,857 and 9,819 people were convicted in 2011 and 2010 respectively. In 2009, a total of 11,418 were convicted for the offenses, he added.
According to a recent report by an international narcotics control body, India is witnessing an increase in abuse of prescription drugs and over-the-counter pharmaceutical preparations which contain psychotropic substances.
"In India, 681 hectares of cannabis plants were eradicated in 2010, and 95 hectares were eradicated in the first half of 2011," it said.
The country also reported having seized a total of 173 tonnes of cannabis herb and 4.3 tonnes of cannabis resin in 2010. In the first half of 2011, 2.66 tonnes were reported to have been seized in the country, the report added.
According to the report by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), India is both the largest producer and consumer of heroin with a value of $1.4 billion or over Rs 6,000 crore (as per 2009 data).