To begin with, it is most heartening to note that in a latest, landmark and laudable judgment which shall certainly go a long way in curbing drug abuse in the state, the Punjab and Haryana High Court on January 22, 2019 has issued a slew of directions. This commendable and noteworthy judgment titled 1. Baljinder Singh v State of Punjab in CRA-D-917-DB-2011 2. Ms. Khushi Khan v State of Punjab in CRA-D-923-DB-2011 was authored by Justice Rajiv Sharma for himself and Justice Harinder Singh Sidhu. It is a no-brainer that these directions were certainly the crying need of the hour also and it is most heartening to note that we finally see them also being issued by a two Judge Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which will help greatly in curbing drug abuse in the state.
Truth be told, the 2 Judge Bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court was hearing two appeals, one filed by Baljinder Singh and another by Khushi Khan who had challenged their being convicted under Section 15 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. They were both sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of 12 years and were directed to pay a fine of Rs 2 lakhs each. The Punjab and Haryana High Court, however, set aside their conviction but took serious note of the problem of drug abuse which has gripped the State.
To start with, it is first and foremost noted in para 1 that, 'Since common questions of law and facts are involved in both these appeals, therefore these are taken up together and disposed of by a common judgment.' It is then observed in para 2 that, 'These appeals have been instituted against the judgment and order dated 08.09.2011 rendered by the learned Judge, Special Court, Patiala, in Sessions Case No. 11T/17.11.2009/11 whereby the appellants were charged with and tried for offences punishable under Section 15 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (hereinafter referred to as 'NDPS Act' for the sake of brevity). The appellants were convicted and sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of 12 years and to pay a fine of Rs 2 lacs each and in default of payment of fine, they were ordered to further undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of two years, for the offence punishable under Section 15 of the NDPS Act.'
As it turned out, it is then disclosed in para 3 that, 'The case of the prosecution in a nutshell is that on 19.08.2009 ASI Rakesh Kumar along with other police officials in connection with patrolling duty were present at Sirhind bye-pass, Rajpura. Lachhman Singh son of Sarwan Singh came on the spot. When Rakesh Kumar was talking with Lachhman Singh, a Qualis bearing registration no. PB-13-D-7000 was seen coming from Ambala side. On seeing the police party, the driver of the vehicle tried to reverse the vehicle. On suspicion, the vehicle was stopped. One lady was sitting with the driver. On enquiry the driver and passenger disclosed their identities. ASI Rakesh Kumar suspected them to be carrying some contraband in the bags lying in the vehicle. He wanted to search them. He apprised the accused of their right to get the search conducted in the presence of Magistrate or gazette Police Officer. However accused reposed confidence in him. Joint consent statement of accused was reduced into writing. On search 7 bags containing poppy husk were receovered. Two samples of 250 grams each from each bag were separated and the residual poppy husk of each bag weighed 34 kgs. All the sample parcels and bulk parcels were sealed with the seals bearing impression ‘RK’. Specimen seal was prepared and the seal after use was handed over to HC Malwinder Singh. The case property was taken into possession. Ruqa was sent to the police station, on the basis of which FIR was registered. The case property was deposited in the Malkhana. On receipt of chemical report and after completing all the codal formalities, challan was put up in Court against the accused.'
While acquitting the appellant, it is then observed in para 45 that, 'Accordingly the appeals are allowed and judgment and order dated 08.09.2011 are set aside. The appellants are acquitted. The appellant Baljinder Singh is on bail. His bail bonds and surety bonds are discharged. The appellant Khushi Khan is in custody. Registry is directed to prepare her release warrants immediately.'
While expressing its grave concern on the rapidly expanding drug abuse, it is very rightly observed in para 36 that, 'The drug abuse is very serious issue. The drug abuse has broken the social fabric and has destroyed number of families. The main concern of the Court is that Charas, Heroin and artificial drugs should not be available in the State at all. It is intriguing to note that the students i.e. boys and girls are getting the prohibited drugs but the police is not in a position to catch hold of kingpins and peddlers. The focus of the entire police force should also be to catch hold of kingpins and peddlers. The focus of the entire police force should also be to catch hold of kingpins and to bring them to justice. The kingpins should also be booked under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 to uproot this menace from the society.'
Not stopping here, it is then added in para 43 that, 'According to National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, the drug addiction is increasingly becoming an area of concern as traditional moorings, effective social taboos, emphasis on self-restraint and pervasive control and discipline of the joint family and community are eroding with industrialization and urbanization. Both traditional and semi-synthetic drugs are abused. Intravenous drug use and HIV/AIDS driven by such use have added a new dimension to the problem, especially in the Northeastern states of the country. The Policy has also addressed the issue of sale of drugs to schools children. It is highlighted in the policy that Local police shall pay special attention to areas surrounding schools and colleges in their efforts to tackle drug peddlers. Schools and colleges shall be encouraged to conduct surveys. The issue of street peddlers has also been discussed in paragraph no. 52 quoted hereinabove. According to this paragraph, the peddlers sell drugs to addicts and often carry a small quantity of drugs at a time. Many of them are also addicts themselves and peddle drugs to earn for meeting their own requirement of drugs. Peddlers are the 10 final link in the chain from manufacturer to addicts and hence an effective strategy is required to handle them.' It is then further illustrated in para 44 that, 'The issue of smuggling of drugs in prisons has also been discussed in the Policy. Prison staff is required to be sensitized and trained in detecting and apprehending drugs. Prisons shall be equipped with sniffer dogs to check the visitors and packages for drugs. All addicts within the prison are to be registered and compulsorily sent for drug de-addiction etc.'
Finally and perhaps most importantly, it is then held in para 46 that, 'However before parting with the judgment, we issue following mandatory directions to the State of Punjab to eradicate the menace of drugs in the State of Punjab including on the analogy of the directions issued by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the case WPCRL No. 2401 of 2017, in the case of Aasha vs. State Government of N.C.T. of Delhi and another:-
1. The State Government is directed to launch special awareness drives to make the people aware of the ill-effects of drugs on the society. The Deputy Commissioner of the district shall be the Nodal Officer to make the citizens aware of the ill-effects of the drugs and controlling the same. The State Government shall make sufficient provisions for awareness drives through electronic media, print media, internet, radio television etc.
2. The State Government is directed to provide latest kits to the Investigating Officers to investigate the matters under the Opium Act, NDPS Act and other allied Acts and also to hold refresher course periodically to apprise the police personnel the procedure to be adopted while conducting investigation under the NDPS Act. The State of Punjab is directed to issue direction to the police department that complainant should not be I.O. to obviate bias.
3. The State Government through the Director General of Police is directed to register cases against the kingpins under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 at the time of lodging the FIR under the NDPS Act and Opium Act and also, if necessary, by attaching their properties provisionally relating to supply of poppy straw, coca plant and coca leaves, prepared opium, opium poppy and opium, opium by cultivator, cannabis plant and cannabis, manufactured drugs and preparation and psychotropic substances including artificial drugs etc.
4. Since the drugs menace has attained alarming proportion, the State Government is directed to establish Rehabilitation Centers in each district of the State within a period of six months from today. The rehabilitation centers shall provide all the basic necessities to the inmates including boarding, lodging, counseling etc.
5. The State Government is directed to appoint one Psychiatrist for counselling in each Rehabilitation Center. The Counsellor appointed in rehabilitation center shall also visit all the schools falling in his jurisdiction advising the students about the ill-effects of drugs.
6. All the educational institutions i.e. government run, government aided, private schools, minority institutions, are directed to appoint the senior-most teacher as the Nodal Officer to counsel the students on every Friday of the month about the ill-effects of drugs. In case, he finds any drugs abuse or symptoms, he shall be at liberty to summon the parents of students. The parents will be sensitized against the drugs abuse in parent-teacher meetings.
7. The State Government is directed to ensure to post one plain-clothes policeman from 8 AM to 6 PM around all the educational institutions to nab the drugs peddlers and kingpins. The local intelligence units are directed to keep a close watch on the shops including Dhabas, tuck shops, Khokas, tea stalls to ensure that the owners thereof are not permitted to indulge in the sale of drugs etc.
8. The Drugs Inspector while raiding the factories, industries, medical shops shall be accompanied by a person not below the rank of the Assistant Commissioner of Police including the Gazetted Officer from the Food and Supplies Department.
9. The Assistant Commissioner of Police of the concerned district shall personally monitor all the cases registered under the Opium Act and the NDPS Act, 1985 to plug the loopholes during the course of enquiry and investigation to increase the conviction rate.
10. The Executive Magistrates and the Gazetted officers throughout the State shall be informed about their duties to be discharged under the NDPS Act more particularly, under Section 50 and the latest law laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and by this Court from time to time.
11. The Police Officers shall ensure that no minor is served any drugs, alcoholic beverages in any medical shops, bars, restaurants and through vend. No vend shall supply/sell the liquor to any minor. In the eventuality of liquor being supplied/sold to a minor, the licence issued for bar/vend shall be cancelled after putting them to notice. This direction shall be complied with by the police force as well as by the Excise Department. The concerned Assistant Commissioner of Police shall visit every medical shop at least within 24 hours to check the supply of drugs to any minor.
12. The Director General of Police, State of Punjab, is directed to revamp, restructure, strengthen special task force.
13. The District Narcotics Cells constituted by the State of Punjab shall immediately undertake the following tasks:-
i) Each Anti Narcotics Cell is directed to identify such area in the district in which there are complaints of sale of drugs or where the drug addicts are found operating based on these information, the local police shall immediately take necessary steps to bust/apprehend such peddlers who are active in drugs trafficking.
ii) As a further action, such potential suppliers shall also be identified by Anti Narcotics Cell as well as local police and action as per law should be taken against them.
iii) The Anti Narcotic Cell shall take action against the abettors and conspirators, aiding the sale of drugs as per Section 29 of the NDPS Act.
iv) Each Police station throughout State of Punjab shall prepare database/record of all individuals, who were previously involved in NDPS Act cases or have pending cases registered against them under NDPS Act and requisite surveillance will be undertaken qua on them so that substantive as well as preventive actions can be taken against them.
v) The Director, Education is directed to provide the list of vulnerable Government schools, Government aided Schools, Public Schools and Minority Schools for monitoring and curbing availability and peddling the drugs and narcotics substances among school going children to the police authorities. Local Police shall take proactive and ensure Zero Tolerance on this issue. All out efforts shall be made to identify such elements and in case any peddler is identified, immediate action shall be taken against him.
vi) The Anti Narcotic Cell shall take action against unscrupulous elements who are involved in sale of Pharmaceutical product without prescription which is to be used as a narcotics substance.
vii) There shall be regular training for capacity building and improving the investigating as well as intelligence collection skills of the investigating officer with regard to detection and investigation of NDPS Act related cases.
viii) The emphasis shall also be on the public schools. The Director Higher Education and Director School Education shall also visit the public schools. The free access shall be given to the Management to the School to the high ranking officers.
14. The State Government is directed to increase public awareness in the society. The Police shall be sensitized qua street peddlers. The Police shall be trained to deal with peddlers.
15. The State Government is directed to develop special, mobile, anti-peddling squads of police with jurisdiction of all over the cities and adjoining areas.
16. The State Government through the Secretary, Education is directed to include a mandatory and comprehensive chapter on drug abuse and illicit trafficking and its socio-economic cost to self, society and the country in the syllabus for 10+1 and 10+2 students.
17. The local police is directed to pay special attention to areas surrounding schools including Government schools, Government aided Schools, Public Schools and Minority Schools, colleges, Universities and coaching Centres in their efforts to tackle drug peddlers.
18. The School Management, Principals and Teachers shall be encouraged sensitized to look out for peddlers in their vicinity and report them to police immediately.
19. All the schools throughout of State Government including Government, Government aided, minority institutions, public schools, Universities, colleges, Polytechnic colleges and Coaching Centres are directed to constitute anti-drug clubs to promote a drug free life among its members and also in the institution.
20. The State Government is also directed to sensitize the Prison staff in detecting and seizing drugs in prisons.
21. The Prisons shall be equipped with sniffer dogs to check the visitors and packages for drugs in the entry and exiting points. All the addicts within the prison including open jail shall be registered and compulsorily sent for de-addiction.
22. Every prisoner entering in the prison shall be tested for addiction and shall be de-addicted if he is found to be addicted.
23. All the prisoners who are arrested in crimes before their production in a court by an arresting agency shall be examined by the doctor and Doctor shall record their history or symptoms, if any of drug abuse. Wherever an arrested person shows signs of addiction, the police should take him to a doctor or a hospital to determine, if he is an addict, and if so, take measures to treat him.
24. There should be coordination amongst the school authorities, police authorities and hospitals/rehabilitation centres.
25. The State is directed to strictly enforce Section 71 of the NDPS Act.'
To be brutally honest, this is one of the 'rarest of rare judgment' by any Court till now in which one has read so many learned, landmark and laudable directions. These must be strictly and swiftly implemented in letter and spirit. There is no reason why drug abuse cannot be checked and curbed to a great extent if not entirely if these historic and commendable directions are swiftly and strictly implemented! It brooks no delay!