This year has taught our nation new words – pandemic, face masks, social distancing and many more but the most interesting discovery made by millennials this week is the phrase “travesty of justice “ . The word originally was used in literature and satire as something related to imitation. The world was reminded of this phrase again when a leading trial lawyer – Mr Satish Manshinde had an emotional outburst with the media and accused the system of “travesty of justice”. The phrase implied that the arrest of a Bollywood actress- Ms Rhea Chakraborty linked with the death of Mr Sushant Singh Rajput in June 2020, as a complete mockery and deemed it to be most unjust and unfair.
While most would debate on this topic, it is amusing and impressive on how the brilliance of this lawyer has spun the tale around. From abetment to suicide , murder and further accusations of money laundering – Rhea Chakraborty has been reduced to merely someone involved in drug procurement and not even consumption whereas Sushant is a victim painted as a drug addict and a patient of mental illness who had no say in the matter.
The drug cartel has always been something which has been casually used in movies as a substance to commemorate with struggles and sadness. However, the legalities of this mafia have never been explored or researched by the layman as much as it has been during the past few months. It is quite clear that the statutory body against drugs – Narcotics Control Bureau(NCB) has been kept busy nationally digging out dirty secrets of the movie mafia , politicians , corporates and many more who have been operating this dark underbelly over the past many years.
The deep drug mafia Bollywood links and a case of suicide abetment involving a nexus of addicts and agents have now created a circumstance where the importance of law against drug abuse are to be made more prominent .
With the arrest of Ms Rhea Chakraborty , social media and news channels have already begun early celebrations considering it as their leap to victory while forgetting that the fate of the accused would only be decided upon a fair trial based on laws of land and acts like INDIAN EVIDENCE ACT 1872(IEA), INDIAN PENAL CODE 1860(IPC), CODE OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE 1973(CrPC) , THE NARCOTIC DRUGS AND PSYCHOTROPIC SUBSTANCES ACT(NDPS), 1985 and INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ACT 2000(IT). The media trials have only fuelled more attention to the accused and political vendettas while straying away from the main case which was unravelling the mystery behind the death of Sushant Singh Rajput.
Meanwhile, the legal world is waiting for the plot twist to unfold when a fair trial and tactics of a trial lawyer will come into foreplay.
Rhea Chakraborty is now under Judicial custody and was arrested on the basis of statement made under section 67 of NDPS ACT 1985 & charged under various sections such as 8(C), 27a, 21, 22, 29 and 28 of NDPS Act. Her counsel has already approached the trial court with a bail application stating that she was forced to make confessions under 67 of the Act. Though her bail application has high chances of rejection, under section 37(NDPS) of the non obstante clause which restricts or limits the scope of applicability of normal bail jurisprudence under CrPC , It is to be noted that her lawyer may argue that she is a victim of continuous media trial with no contraband seized or ascertaining of quantum of any drugs which is one of the most crucial aspect in NDPS cases. Her arrest was only made based on the statements made by the co-accused and her statement under section 67 of the act.
This is where the legal entanglement begins making a certain Mr Tofan Singh, the key aspect of Rhea Chakraborty’s future.
The confusion over Section 67(NDPS) and Section 25(IEA) are yet to be cleared with the nation awaiting the verdict by the larger bench of Supreme Court in Tofan Singh v. State of Tamil Nadu [(2013) 16 SCC 31 .
The case in question has raised issues such as:
1) Whether an officer of the central / state government investigating a case under the NDPS Act is a "police officer"?
2) Whether statements recorded under Section 67(c) of the NDPS Act can be treated as confessional statements, regardless of whether the officer is a police officer?
Indian evidence Act 1872 Section 25 clearly forbids the use of confession to police officers while in custody as not to be used as evidence for criminal cases. The statement recorded by an officer under section 53 (NDPS) through the section 67 (NDPS) may be held of no value by section 25 of the Indian evidence Act which states that no confessions made to a ” police officer” shall be proved against an accused. So, if NCB officers are considered as police officers, then a confession recorded by them would be hit by the Section 25 prohibition and rendered useless as evidence.
Thus, it is still not clear whether statements or confessions made by Rhea can be considered as substantial evidence for further proceedings.
If the supreme courts decides in the favour of Mr Tofan Singh, then that would pave way for an easy escape route for Rhea Chakraborty while a reverse of that would lead to the biggest unravelling of the Bollywood drug nexus.
Either way, this is a close watch for the nation that can unveil a breakthrough for cases under the NDPS Act in future.
By: Advocate T S Sarath
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