This article is written by Raslin Saluja from KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneswar. This article elaborates the role and functioning of the narcotics control bureau and its attempt in the administration of criminal justice in the previous years.
Table of Contents
Under Article 47 of the Indian Constitution, the State has the duty to endeavor to implement the prohibition of the consumption of intoxicating drugs which are injurious to health except only for medicinal purposes. This aligns with various international conventions. By virtue of India’s membership to the Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol, the Conventions on Psychotropic Substances, 1971, and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988, it has three Central Acts which govern the subject for the domestic implementation of the concerned obligations. India has also signed various bilateral agreements/MoUs exclusively on drug-related matters with 14 countries and some more on related criminal inclusive of drugs with 9 countries.
The major three Acts involved are the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, and The Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1988. The policy of drug abuse control is under the functions of the Central Government and therefore is under the surveillance of various ministers and departments who are responsible for executing the task of coordination, assistance, and fulfilling the undertaken obligation. It involves the Ministry of Finance, Department of Revenue acting as the administrator for the 1985 and 1988 Acts.
Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB)
The Narcotics Control Bureau derives its authority from the 1985 Act’s provision under Section 4 (3) for constituting a Central Authority in order to empower the Central Government to exercise its functions and powers under the scope of the Act. Constituted by the Government of India, the NCB is the supreme topmost coordinating agency which also is responsible for enforcement through its various zones and sun zones placed in the country. These geographically scattered zones and subzones look after the information about seizures of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. They collect the data and the intelligence, disseminate them, analyze them, understand the trends and mode of operation, and closely coordinate and assist the customs, state Police, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB), and other law enforcement agencies in keeping an eye for the unusual activities.
It is a known fact that drugs not only endanger peace but also the health of a person. It places huge burdens on the public health system as well as it poses severe threats to the community in general. There are many such challenges that India has to face. To that end, supply and demand reduction, illicit cultivation, production and trafficking of new substances, involvement of foreign nationals in drug peddling and smuggling are some of the major concerns that need focus.
Vision and mission
The Bureau is focused on combating illicit trafficking with the aid of intelligence and investigative operations and enforcements and coordination of the policies, strategies, and mechanisms as elaborated under the heads of drug control, precursor control, working of state and other agencies empowered under the Act. It strives to achieve a drug-free society.
Role and functions
The Bureau under the monitoring and management of the Central Government, perform its prescribed functions by the Central Government and is responsible for the following:
- It controls the precursor chemicals, their domestic control, and enforcement of the provisions of the above-mentioned Acts.
- It coordinates the information and the measures taken by various offices and departments, State and Central agencies, and other authorities authorized under the NDPS Act, Customs Act, Drugs and Cosmetics Act, and any other law related to the drug law enforcement provisions of the 1985 Act.
- It takes care of the implementation of the various countermeasures against illicit traffic and peddling under the respective international conventions to which India is a signatory to or which may be ratified or acceded to by India in the future.
- It also extends its assistance to concerned authorities and organizations at an international level under foreign jurisdictions to facilitate universal response and actions for the prevention and suppression of illicit traffic.
- And, it also coordinates the working of the other involved ministries, departments, and organizations as mentioned earlier, relating to illegal activities of drug abuse.
- It assists in enhancing the States in their efforts.
Based on national policy, the Bureau’s role is widespread, covering the aspects of drug law enforcement, identification, and destruction of opium and cannabis crops. They also compile the seizure statistics, manage the receipts and monitor the returns of controlled substances under the NDPS (Regulation of Controlled Substances) Order, 1993.
Review of their major contributions over the years
Following the principles of criminal jurisprudence, an offense consists of actus reus and mens rea, which has to be proved by the prosecution in order to establish a commission of the offense. The concerned Acts are so stringent that they demand strict measures so much that even for a suspect or for the slightest doubt the NCB is required to step up.
India is vulnerable to drug trafficking. It is still swirling in the dangerous storm of trafficking and substance abuse. It is bent more towards the abuse of pharmaceutical drugs like those of pills and syrups normally prescribed by doctors.
That is because of its proximity to the golden triangle of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand and the other South West Asian countries forming the golden crescent i.e Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran which are known in the context of drug trafficking. A report released in 2019 by the AIIMS’s National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre in which about 2.06% of the Indian population was estimated to be using opioids, while a figure of 0.55% already requires help to deal with their addiction issues.
As of today, the major concern of the NCB is an increase in substance and drug abuse and the sale of over-the-counter medicines. To that end, they have even proposed sensitizing the pharmaceutical industry. This measure is being taken at the backdrop of usage of two chemical compounds which are illegally being used to manufacture heroin and methamphetamine.
According to the records compared to earlier four years by NCB, 2020 saw a higher number of arrests. In 2020, a total of 46 cases were registered by the agency and seized various drug stocks like mephedrone, methamphetamine, ketamine, hashish, marijuana, and cocaine along with some scheduled psychotropic drugs.
On May 11, the biggest drug haul in the country was notified where they recovered 1,818 kg of pseudoephedrine from an IPS officer’s house in Noida along with 2 kg cocaine – collectively worth around Rs 1,000 crore. The house was taken on rent by two Nigerian nationals where it was being used as a drug manufacturing unit.
The NCB had under their radar 142 operational drug syndicates, a heroin trade of Rs 140,000 crore, and 2 million heroin addicts as per their analysis. These syndicates are said to have links to Western Europe, Canada, Africa, Australia, South American, and countries in West Asia. They have estimated that 360 metric tonnes (MT) of retail-quality heroin and about 36 MT of wholesale-quality heroin, which is purer, are smuggled into different cities in India every year. The intel said that as many as 25 of the top 142 syndicates operate from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and parts of Haryana. Rajasthan alone has nine, as do Maharashtra and Goa combined.
NCB has been in news for arresting India’s first darknet narcotics operative who was alleged to ship psychotropic drug parcels abroad in the guise of sex stimulation medicines. Where darknet is a hidden platform by way of secret alleys for anonymous communication used for illegal activities such as narcotics sale, pornographic content, etc to escape from the surveillance of law enforcement agencies.
The bollywood drug fiasco
With the death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput, it sprung a series of investigations by various agencies in the Kannada and Hindi film industries. Celebrities such as Rhea Chakraborty, Bharti Singh, Harsh Limbachiya, Preetika Chauhan faced arrest. While others such as Deepika Padukone, Shraddha Kapoor, Rakul Preet Singh, and Sara Ali Khan were questioned in related matters. Many others like Arjun Rampal remained under strict surveillance too.
In 2019, about 74,620 arrests took place across 36 states and union territories under the NDPS Act. These figures point out Punjab to be an epicenter of drug smuggling where 15,449 people alone from the above-mentioned figure were arrested from Punjab. With the rising menace of such illicit activities, NCB took a proactive lead with the aim to monitor major cases that are linked with other crimes such as money laundering, terrorism, etc. It deployed additional manpower and had seizure cases in Indore, Kolkata, Guwahati, and Mumbai, the major source originating from Afghanistan.
NCB has also been a part of 2019 global ‘Operation Trance’ which is a collaborative intelligence gathering action on international postal, express mail, and courier shipments containing psychotropic drugs (to be purchased on a doctor’s prescription) that are abused as sedatives and painkillers. It busted an international drug racket spreading across more than seven countries.
The numbers of 2016 showed 23 registered cases and the arrest of 20 people, while 2017 recorded 30 registered cases and 38 arrests. Though NCB used to carry out criminal probes and seize assets such as cash and other immovable properties, in 2016 for the first time they froze bitcoins as part of the seizure of the tainted assets. They had worked on the legal technicalities of the case where about 400-500 bitcoins were part of their criminal investigation under the NDPS Act.
Ever since its inception in 1986, NCB for the first time in 2011 was strengthened by increasing its manpower to more than double the personnel in 2010 with the aim to focus on illegal drug usage at high-end parties in metros. In 2010 they had busted two illicit methamphetamine laboratories in Thane and three more ATS producing labs in Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Administering criminal justice
However, the involvement of various authorities has led to the functions overlapping and an unnecessary burden on the implementation of the NDPS Act. A critical overview reveals that the control of illicit drug trafficking and international organizations coordination comes under the duty of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The Department of Revenue in the Ministry of Finance looks after the execution of the provisions of the Act and monitors the legal production of opium. While the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment (MoSJ) is responsible for the rehabilitation of addicts, the demand reduction and aftercare are under the control of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoH). And finally, both the NCB and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) provide intelligence. This has oftentimes led to questioning the reason behind such divisions and their overall contribution to the administration of the criminal justice system.
It rather seems that these agencies would work more efficiently if there had been a clear demarcation of their functions. To that end, even the NCB had demanded a reduction in their mandate. The issues emerge from the very first stage only of their functioning which is of data collection. Since the statistics and trends are collected by police, NCB, and the border security forces- it creates a difficulty in understanding. Even certain other agencies are authorized to make arrests such as the customs authorities and the DRI. All of these do not allow having an accurate central repository which in turn fails to provide a certain specific aggregate count to make a precise assessment of the numbers. This has led to criticism of the National Crime Records Bureau and NCB statistics. Since the severity of the NDPS Act requires great deliberation, NCB would only be effective in smoothly fulfilling its obligations if the changes are made in the institutional and implementation levels.
There has to be deterrence if we want our people to stay away from drug abuse. For that, we need viable measures to be taken to bring about an effective outcome. Thus the practice adopted by the various agencies though was originally aimed for better functioning seems to lag in producing the intended result. Introducing a reform would further enhance the functioning of these agencies which would then prevent considerable abuse and confusion in their application.
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