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Cases lie in court, drugs flow freely in Mumbai

Cases adjourned for months — sometimes years; those booked jump bail, flee country or find ways to go on with trade

mumbai Updated: Mar 30, 2017 19:57 IST
Charul Shah
One major problem is cases lie in courts for years.
One major problem is cases lie in courts for years.(HT)

14,180 narcotics cases were registered in Mumbai 2016

13,959 of those cases were of consumption

1,969 cases were registered till February this year

While the peddlers of drugs and its consumers are booked, there isn’t enough legal action that will deter them. Conviction rates are low and cases are adjourned for months — sometimes even years. The result: those booked jump bail, flee the country or find ways to go on with their drug trade.

So, in the bylanes of Colaba, for instance, it is not uncommon to hear a passerby ask casually for “Hash Sir”. At Worli, Kurla, Juhu, Versova and Malwani drugs, from low-grade ganja and hashish to quality cocaine and meth that are sold by peddlers in BMWs, are found in abundance. With two ports and industrial corridors stretching all the way to Gujarat on one side and Solapur to the other, Mumbai is a natural hotspot.

“There is a flaw in the law that needs to be corrected. The accused are aware of these flaws and are taking advantage of it. The police machinery has to overcome this,” said Shrihari Aney, former Maharashtra advocate general.

One major problem is cases lie in courts for years. Recently, a special court constituted to try those booked under the Narcotic Drugs and Pyschotropic Substance Act (NDPS), adjourned the trial of a September 2014 case of one, Sajid Sayyed who was found with 370g of hashish, to January 2018. Sayyed’s case isn’t the only one.

Sandip Salariya, a native of Punjab, was arrested in 2009 and soon granted bail. He attended court for a few days but stopped after a while. The court issued a non-bailable warrant against him and declared him a ‘proclaimed offender’. Salariya was arrested only in February 2016 — seven years later. Salariya, in his defence, claimed he was told his case was over, which is why he returned to his village in Pathankot. He claimed he was not aware of being declared a proclaimed offender. In March 2016, the court rejected his bail plea, saying he was arrested in a combing operation after the Pathankot attack. The court said he could abscond if granted bail. But a few months later, when the case was transferred to another special NDPS court, Salariya got bail again, the judge was transferred, and Salariya’s case was heard before another judge, who has now adjourned the case to next year — that’s a nine-year delay.

Aney said judges need to be cautious when using the discretionary power to give bail in cases under special law. “Bail should not be granted, unless there are sufficient grounds, as hardened criminals end up indulging in the same offences again.”

Francis Saldhana, a special public prosecutor for central agencies like DRI, Customs and Narcotics Control Bureau, said long adjournments give the accused a chance to escape. “It becomes difficult for agencies to track them down afte that.”

Saldhana gave the example of foreign nationals booked in narcotics cases getting bail and leaving the country. “A Nigerian national was granted bail and his passport seized by the court. He managed to obtain a duplicate passport and tried to flee. Fortunately he was caught at immigration.” In another case, Saldhana said an Italian national managed to leave the country after getting bail. “He was caught under the NDPS Act. Once he got bail, he applied for documents from his embassy, which without any verification helped him. He fled the country and the case is pending.”

What is the solution then? Former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde said a drastic overhaul of the system of disposal of cases is needed. “There has to be a system in which criminal cases are disposed of within a maximum of 2 to 3 years.Everyone, from judicial officers to the defence lawyer and public prosecutors, must speak on issues of delay and the low conviction rates, justice Hegde said. And, those with a history of jumping bail, should not be granted the liberty at all, he said .

Former HC judge BG Kolse Patil said adjournments were a matter of discretion of the courts. “But there has to be a way for speedy justice. In many cases, the courts just pass orders and not necessarily do 0justice. Delay in cases affects the society .”

The government too should work on appointing more courts so cases are disposed of faster, Aney said. “The process will become faster, there will be no need for adjournments.”

Arrested in September 2014, case will be heard in January 2018

Sajid Sayyed was arrested for holding 370g of hashish in September 2014. A special court to try cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Pyschotropic Substance Act (NDPS) recently adjourned his trial to January 2018 — that’s a four-year wait for a verdict.

A month after his arrest, Sayyed was granted bail, despite the prosecution’s plea of denying him bail as he had several cases against him. In the years that the case has dragged on, Sayyed failed to attend court and has consistently moved for pleas for exemption from appearance. The court initially allowed the plea, but soon noticed Sayyed was absconding.

About two years after he was booked, Sayyed was issued a non-bailable warrant on July 1, 2016. Sayyed was re-arrested a month later and remained in jail till this month, when he came out on bail again.

Sayyed has asked for the his surety amount to be reduced from Rs40,000 to Rs15,000, saying he comes from a poor family.

The prosecution, however, told the court if that was allowed, Sayued would abscond. “The offence is serious, and there are chances of him absconding. There are many cases pending the court in which the accused never appeared,” the public prosecutor said. The court rejected the plea and asked him to arrange for the cash amount for bail.

For now, even with the risk of Sayyed missing the judicial process, the case has been adjourned to January 2018. (Charul Shah)

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