Narcotics Control Bureau officers arrested alleged drug peddler Abdul Basit Parihar on September 3.(HT PHOTO)
Narcotics Control Bureau officers arrested alleged drug peddler Abdul Basit Parihar on September 3.(HT PHOTO)

Mumbai: Cracking down on peddlers will not stop drug supply, say experts

The recent Supreme Court (SC) ruling, that confessions under section 67 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act is not admissible as evidence, could prove to be the Achilles’ heel for NCB when the cases reach trial stage.
By Vijay Kumar Yadav and Charul Shah, Mumbai
UPDATED ON NOV 30, 2020 12:14 AM IST

Since August 26 when the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) registered a case to probe the drug angle into Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, the agency has continued its crackdown against the usage of drugs in the film industry. Meanwhile, the recent Supreme Court (SC) ruling, that confessions under section 67 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act is not admissible as evidence, could prove to be the Achilles’ heel for NCB when the cases reach trial stage. This, in turn, would hinder the efforts of the agencies to crack down on the supply chain or producers who supply drugs to Mumbai.

Legal experts opine that a case cannot stand trial on the basis of a confessional statement alone, and the agency will have to corroborate every arrest with substantial evidence.

“Confession statements of co-accused have to be corroborated with other substantial evidence. On its own it cannot be considered as evidence against another accused. With this recent Supreme Court ruling, agencies have to gather other supporting evidence, without which the case would become weak,” said Pradeep Gharat, noted criminal lawyer and special public prosecutor in various high-profile cases.

Incidentally, an NDPS court in Mumbai, while releasing Paul Bartel, an Australian national arrested by NCB, on bail, noted, “In the absence of any substantial material, taking into account the fact that no contraband was recovered from the accused and except the statements of co-accused and WhatsApp messages, there is no substantial evidence to treat the accused as peddler/supplier of drugs.”

Gharat said that WhatsApp chats, too, cannot be considered as a material of evidence. “Both the confession statement and WhatsApp chat have to be independently corroborated,” Gharat said.

Senior counsel Mihir Desai opined that the police have a right to arrest any accused on the basis of a prima facie evidence gathered during the process of investigation. “Confessional statement and WhatsApp chat can be considered as prima facie evidence but they are not enough. It has to be independently corroborated. The agency has to gather further strong supporting evidence while submitting a charge sheet for trial. In the absence of which, the case would become weak and may not yield positive results for prosecution,” said Desai.

Only time will tell if the cases registered by NCB against the likes of actor Rhea Chakraborty will stand the test of trial. “Little is known about the corroboratory evidence NCB has gathered to arrest Rhea Chakraborty and others. Chakraborty’s case will be decided by the trial court based on the merits of the evidence gathered by the investigating agency,” said a retired SC judge on condition of anonymity.

Senior police officers are clear that arresting small time peddlers will not root out the drug menace prevalent in the city. “Law enforcement agencies have not achieved any major success in busting an entire supply chain or unearthing a link to drug trafficking cartels operating out of Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh which primarily focus on producing weed or hashish,” said a senior IPS officer, requesting anonymity.

“When it comes to hashish, the supply chain is primarily controlled by the Russian or Israeli drug mafia. Hashish fetches a lot of money unlike marijuana whose production and supply is controlled by locals from different parts of the country. Unless we dismantle these drug syndicates, the supply in to the city will continue,” he added.

“If a well-coordinated major crackdown doesn’t happen on the drug’s supply chain or the core source unit of drug manufacturers, then the flow of drugs into the city will continue as always,” said former Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS) chief KP Raghuvanshi.

He added, “A peddler is a very small unit. They are rather the victims. Most of them start as consumers and end up as peddlers. They peddle primarily to fulfil their need to consume and then to make small monetary gains.”

Former director general of Maharashtra Police, PS Pasricha, also said that peddlers are the last unit in the drug chain before the consumers. “They don’t run the drug business. Police agencies should focus more on busting the entire supply chain. Only then, the actual supply of drugs would stop in city. But city police’s often don’t prefer going after suppliers as they work in set format and are bound with too many restrictions, jurisdictional issue being the biggest reason.”

Central agencies such as NCB and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) are entrusted with going after the big fish of the narcotics industry.

In India, majority of domestic as well as international narcotics syndicates, especially those trafficking cocaine and heroin, penetrate metros like Delhi and Mumbai. Delhi and Mumbai have always been their hot favourites.

In Mumbai, cocaine is ferried mostly by persons of African origin who are hired by Colombian and other South American drug cartels. Most cocaine peddlers and smugglers who have been arrested in Mumbai by NCB and anti-narcotics cell (ANC) belong to African countries, especially Nigeria which is known to be a key transit point for Colombian drug cartels, said an IPS officer from the Mumbai Police.

KPS Malhotra, deputy director, operations, NCB, said, “Narcotics trafficking is a network crime. To bust a supply chain, law enforcers keep on looking for intelligence thread linked to the entire chain at any level — right from consumers to the manufacturer or cartel runners. The majority of cartels, especially the domestic ones, keep on changing their methods, locations while the members stay off the radars of NCB or other law enforcing agencies. The groups would set up some makeshift facilities in interiors, cook drugs and then dismantle everything. Despite this, efforts are always put to derail their plans.”

Explaining the challenges faced by law enforcers with respect to taking on cartels operating domestically and trafficking synthetic drugs, a senior DRI official said, “Busting cartels or factories manufacturing synthetic drugs is challenging because India’s chemical-pharmaceutical industry is very huge and monitoring is not rigorous. Drug prepared in factories does not require state of the art equipment or set up. Ephedrine and mephedrone can be prepared using basic chemicals and equipment and the raw material required for their preparation are legally available in both chemical and pharmaceutical industries.”

Data or intelligence sharing is another serious problem because of which drug cartels manage to remain off the radars. “The pace at which data or intelligence is shared among all the stakeholders of anti-narcotics works and the pace at which cartels run, there is a considerable gap,” the DRI official said.

The Central government has shown their intent to work in this direction and recently revamped the NCORD (Narco Coordination Centre). The government has also constituted an apex committee under the Union home secretary to support the coordination mechanism under NCORD to enable focused resolution of policy and operational issues.

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