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The Kerala High Court recently answered no to the question of whether a vehicle driving or traveling alongside another vehicle that is transporting narcotics and psychotropic substances could be considered a vehicle used as a conveyance in carrying the contraband to seize it under Section 52-A of the NDPS Act.

The Single Judge Bench of Justice A. Badarudeen noted that it goes beyond the statutory intent of Section 60(3) of the NDPS Act to treat a vehicle that is driving or accompanying another vehicle that is carrying contraband as if it were itself carrying contraband and to treat it as a conveyance.

"When the law states that an animal or vehicle used to transport any narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances alone is subject to confiscation, the legislative intent cannot be expanded to include a vehicle that is driving or traveling alongside another vehicle that is transporting contraband as well. As a result, a vehicle that is driving or traveling alongside another vehicle that is trafficking narcotics and psychotropic substances cannot be considered a vehicle employed as a conveyance for the contraband and is not liable to seizure under Section 52-A of the NDPS Act ".

Petitioner Claims 

The prosecution claimed that the four defendants in the case had conspired to bring 154.3 kg of marijuana into the country from elsewhere. The third defendant also rented a tempo vehicle from the RC owner, where the Ganja was stored in designated racks and delivered to Kerala. It was stated that the third and fourth accused persons had provided the vehicle pilot by following in another car while the first and second accused persons were transferring the item in the aforementioned vehicle. The four suspects were all taken into custody. The pilot car was also impounded, along with the tempo van and the illegal goods.

When the petitioner, who is also the RC owner of the pilot car, presented an application to the Drugs Disposal Committee, arguing that the vehicle had no connection to the crime by contending that the prosecution records would not justify the transport of contraband in the said vehicle, the Committee rejected the application using an order. The petitioner submitted the current appeal for the release of the car in this aspect.

Advocates R. Rohith and Harishma P. Thampi argued on behalf of the petitioner that there was no evidence that the contraband was carried in the car driving the van and that the same had been used as a conveyance to carry the contraband in violation of Section 60(3) of the NDPS Act, which states that any conveyance or vehicle used in carrying any narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances shall alone be liable to be confiscated.

Respondent arguments 

On the other hand, it was argued by Public Prosecutor Renjit George on behalf of the respondents that the pilot automobile would also be a subject of seizure under Section 52-A of the NDPS Act, which specifies the disposal of seized narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. He made the point that when a driver of a vehicle carrying contraband is arrested, such action counts as "conveying the contraband" and falls under the jurisdiction of Section 60(3) of the NDPS Act, making the vehicle subject to forfeiture.

The Public Prosecutor also cited Section 63 of the NDPS Act to argue that in cases involving NDPS Act offenses, regardless of whether the accused has been found guilty, exonerated, or discharged, it is up to the court to determine whether the item or items seized under the Act are subject to confiscation under Sections 60, 61, or 62.

Court observation 

The court in this case stated that it was evident from the prosecution's files and the investigating officer's report that the first two accused individuals and the contraband-carrying vehicle had been detained at the outset. Following this, the third and fourth accused individuals—who are accused of driving the aforementioned vehicle by allegedly moving in front of it—were detained, and the car itself was also impounded.

It read Section 60 of the NDPS Act and determined that the car could not be used as a means of transportation for the transportation of any narcotic drug or psychiatric substance under Subsection (3). As a result, the Court nullified the Drug Disposal Committee's ruling and ordered the car to be delivered to the Special Court in Thrissur within ten days of receiving a copy of the judgment.

Court imposed restrictions 

The Court also set the pursuing restrictions:

i. After serving copies of the RC Book and Insurance Certificate to the Public Prosecutor as well, the car will be released to the petitioner upon production of the originals for verification before the Special Court, along with copies that have been attested and photographs that show the car's number on the front and rear sides;

ii. After the Special Court is satisfied that the petitioner is the rightful owner of the vehicle, it will release it to the petitioner upon execution of a bond for Rs. 3,00,000 by the petitioner with two reputable sureties, each for the same sum, to the satisfaction of the Court below, with the promise to produce the vehicle before the Court as and when directed; and 

iii. The petitioner must also submit an affidavit stating that the vehicle cannot be sold or encumbered until the case has been resolved or without the Special Court's prior approval.

The court went on to say that although the car had been released, the third and fourth accused people would still be held criminally responsible.

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