- An appeal filed by the accused in the Supreme Court of India challenging the verdict passed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
- The case in reference is Gurdev Singh v. State of Punjab [Criminal Appeal No. 375 of 2021]
- In this case the accused was awarded a sentence of rigorous imprisonment for 15 years and the appeal is allowed in the supreme court only with respect to the element of sentencing.
- The decision was pronounced by a 2 judge bench of Supreme Court constituting of Justice M.R Shah and D.Y Chandrachud.
- The accused was caught having possession of drugs. He held 1kg of heroin and was found selling the drugs.
- It has been contended that the accused is a poor man and was just a carrier also he is the sole breadwinner of the family and so the sentence should be curtailed. It is asserted that he is a 1st-time convict.
- The trial court sentenced the accused man under section 21 of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act to rigorous imprisonment for 15 years with a fine of ₹2 lakhs. Though the minimum punishment prescribed under the section was 10 years or more.
- When the matter went for an appeal in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the sentence passed by the trial court was upheld by the high court.
Submissions of Accused
- The appellant asserted that the minimum punishment prescribed under section 21 of the NDPS Act is 10 years but he has been awarded a sentence of rigorous imprisonment of 15 years.
- The court should take into account such factors mentioned in section 32B for imposing a higher punishment.
- Also while imposing a higher punishment after taking into consideration the factors enumerated under section 32B it should also state the reasons for awarding higher punishment. But no reasons were assigned neither by the special court nor by the high court.
Submissions by State
- The decision to give higher punishment than the minimum prescribed punishment does not solely depend on the factors mentioned under section 32B from clauses (a) to (f).
- It is at the discretion of the court to consider such factors as they may be necessary and deems fit for consideration.
- The quantity of drugs can be a deciding factor that the court can take into account while deciding the matter.
COURT OBSERVATIONS & VERDICT
- The court observed that the illegal smuggling of drugs and drug trafficking in our country has increased by a startling amount in recent years.
- The court noted that society impacts greatly by such offences which are committed under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and while sentencing an accused under this act, the interest of the society as a whole should also be taken into consideration.
- Persons who are dealing with such narcotic drugs and substances are instrumental in causing the death of innocent people including young and vulnerable crowds.
- Though people consuming drugs are just a fraction in our society. But such substances cause lethal effects and impacts the community badly and is found to be hazardous.
- The words ‘as the court may deem fit' shall include factors such as considering the amount or quantity of drugs.
- While awarding the quantum of punishment whether higher than the minimum prescribed punishment the court may take into consideration any such factors as it may be necessary for consideration apart from the factors mentioned under section 32B of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.
- The court also clarified that if the accused is given higher punishment based on the quantity of drugs then the court has committed no errors.
- Lastly, the court said that whether a man is poor or just a carrier of drugs or a sole breadwinner in his family, a sentence cannot be ruled in favour of the accused to mitigate the sentence while awarding punishment under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act or for offences in connection to drugs.
- The appeal was thus dismissed by the Supreme Court.
Alcoholism and Drugs related crimes being victimless crimes they fall under the category of consensual crimes. Drugs indeed are toxic for one's health and offences relating to narcotic drugs is a crime against a society that should not be dealt with lightly.