J. Justice Sanjiv Khanna
J. Bela M. Trivedi
Appellant- Sanjeev Chandra Agarwal &Anr
Respondent- Union of India
The Supreme Court has set aside charges framed by the High Court, based on a statement taken under Section 67 of the NDPS Act.
- No narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances were recovered from the premises of the two appellants. However, the prosecution submitted that 4 kilograms of Controlled Substances were allegedly found from the premises of the appellants located at Varanasi.
- The High Court ordered framing charges under Sections 27-A and 29-A of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 against the appellants. The High Court relied on statements given to officers under Section 67 of the Act, by other accused.
- The Supreme Court found that the High Court was not correct in relying on the statements made by other accused under Section 67 of the NDPS Act. The court relied on the 2020 judgment of Tofan Singh v. State of Tamil Nadu, where confessions made to officers were declared inadmissible.
- The trial court had discharged the parties by this order, which was reversed by the High Court. The Supreme Court referred to the Tofan Singh judgment to say that statements given under Section 67 cannot be solely relied upon. The charges framed under Section 27A and 29 for illicit trading were set-aside.
Section 67 Narcotic Drugs And Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985- An NDPS officer may call for information during the inquiry.
Whether a statement given under Section 67 of the NDPS Act can be the sole basis for framing charges?
- In the case of Tofan Singh, the Bench by a 2:1 majority held that the NDPS officers would fall within the definition of ‘police officers’ under the Evidence Act. Any statement made before them would not form the basis of a conviction under the Act.
- A statement recorded by such an officer under Section 67 cannot be used as a confessional statement during the trial. The Tofan Singh judgment was opposite to the judgment in the State of Punjab v. Barkat Ram. But High Courts now rely on Tofan Singh for the evidentiary value of statements given under Section 67.
- The Tofan Singh judgment was path-breaking in the sense that in that judgment, it was held that the uniform worn by the investigative agencies under various statutes may separate them, but what is important are the powers and functions exercised by such officers under their respective statutes. Since the NDPS officer’s powers are parallel to a police officer, and statements made before them would be treated as such.
- The judgment protected the Fundamental Rights of the accused and provided them the right to stay silent to avoid prosecution. Under Article 20(3),constitutional safeguard against testimonial compulsion is enshrined.
The statements of the accused taken before a police officer are not admissible.This is one of the principles followed during a criminal investigation. It makes sense to apply it to drug cases as well. Even though NDPS officers are not police officials, the TofanSingh case gave clarity about if statements made before them can be used as the basis of conviction. This judgment is fairly recent, but it has been referred to by many courts. Even in the present case, the Supreme Court corrected the order of the High Court, using the judgment as a foundation for its analysis.
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What is the importance of the Tofan Singh judgment?