India

It does not require any further testing to establish guilt once a poppy straw has been seized and tested positive for morphine and meconic acid: SC

According to the Supreme Court, once morphine and meconic acid are identified in seized poppy straws, there will be no need for further tests to establish the guilt of an accused under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.

Justice B R Gavai and Justice C T Ravikumar delivered the judgment while discussing whether it is necessary to specify the species of the recovered contraband – poppy husks and poppy straws, among other things.

Several cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) are affected by the answers to these questions.

According to the report, the primary purpose of the 1985 Act was to curb the menace of trafficking in drugs and psychotropic substances, and thereby it is preferable to adopt an interpretation that advances the purpose of the law rather than adopting a “pedantic and mechanical approach.”

As the Supreme Court noted, referring to earlier enactments, international conventions and scientific studies, it is well established that the plant, papaver somniferum L, is the primary source of opium production, and studies have demonstrated that it contains morphine and meconic acid.

Therefore, the bench said in its 74-page judgment that if it is established that the poppy straw tested positive for morphine and meconic acid, further testing would be needed to establish the accused’s guilt under Section 15 of the 1985 Act.

NDPS Act Section 15 deals with penalties for contraventions relating to poppy straw.

An appeal filed by the state of Himachal Pradesh challenging the November 2007 decision of the high court that set aside a conviction and a 10-year sentence awarded by a trial court to an accused in a narcotic case brought the issue to the attention of the apex court.

According to the prosecution, a large quantity of poppy husk was recovered at the request of the accused.

As a result of its verdict, the apex court held that if the view taken by the high court is accepted, those who have been found guilty of violating the provisions of the 1985 Act and dealing with contraband material that the chemical examiner identifies as containing morphine and meconic acid would not be subject to the law’s harshest provisions.

The High Court is of the considered opinion that, even though the chemical examiner’s report demonstrates that the contraband contains meconic acid and morphine, the conviction under section 15 of the 1985 Act cannot be sustained unless it is established that the same was derived from the species “papaver somniferum L.”

The bench referred to the legislative history before the introduction of the 1985 Act and observed that as many deficiencies were observed in the earlier enactments and the provisions therein were not considered sufficient to address the problems associated with drug trafficking, a new law was necessary.

Several treaties and protocols have evolved in narcotics control since the passing of the three earlier enactments, resulting in a vast body of international law.

As a party to these treaties and conventions, the Government of India entailed several obligations that were not covered or were only partially covered by the old Acts. As a result, the bench noted that the earlier acts’ scheme was insufficient to deter well-organized smuggling gangs.

According to the report, the penalty provided under the old Acts was also inadequate.

Because the country has, for many years, been increasingly concerned with the problem of drug trafficking, which has posed serious problems to state and federal governments, the bench determined that a comprehensive law was necessary.

The main purpose of the new law was to curb the menace of drug trafficking and psychotropic substances. Thus, the interpretation that advances the purpose of the Act must be preferred over a pedantic and mechanical approach,” the statement stated.

In the last century, there has also been an effort at the international level to control and prohibit the menace of drugs and psychotropic substances, according to the Supreme Court.

In the result, we hold that once a chemical examiner establishes that the seized poppy straw indicates a positive test for the contents of morphine and meconic acid, it is sufficient to establish that it is covered by clause (xvii) of section 2 of the 1985 Act to establish that it is covered. According to the bench, no additional tests are required to establish that the seized material is part of papaver “somniferum L”.

Upon hearing the appeal, the apex court remanded the case to the high court for fresh consideration in accordance with what the bench had held.

In its statement, the court suspended the sentence pending a decision by the high court on the case’s merits.

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