Published on: June 25, 2022 at 16:10 IST
The Calcutta High Court directed that in all cases involving recovery of narcotic substances, seizing officers shall make a video recording of the entire procedure and that reasons for failing to videograph the recovery must be specifically stated in the investigation records.
All police personnel typically have smartphones and other electronic devices that would allow them to videotape such a recovery procedure, according to a bench made up of Justice Joymalya Bagchi and Justice Ananya Bandyopadhyay.
The Bench further noted that while the Narcotics Control Bureau’s Field Officers’ Handbook, among other things, instructs the search team to carry a video camera among other equipment for the purpose of the search, sadly, even in instances handled by NCB, such orders are not implemented.
“The observations made in Shafhi Mohammad as well as the guidelines in the Field Officers’ Handbook issued by the Narcotics Control Bureau reinforce our view regarding mandatory videography of recovery proceedings under NDPS Act. Technology has advanced considerably and equipments like smartphones and other electronic devices enabling videography are ordinarily available with seizing officers. Hence, lack of availability of technology or awareness is a non- issue”, the Court underscored.
The Court further acknowledged that the NDPS Act vests plenary powers of search, seizure and arrest on investigating officers and that even the power of the Court to grant Bail is circumscribed by strict restrictions under Section 37 particularly in cases involving commercial quantity.
The Court averred,
“While a strict law is necessary to control organized crime like drug trafficking and protect the youth from the menace of drug abuse, its draconian provisions are sometimes misused by investigating agency leading to false implication and prolonged unjustified detention of individuals. Most of the cases registered under the N.D.P.S. Act revolve around recovery of narcotic substance from the accused. Heart and soul of the prosecution is the legitimacy of such recovery. Prosecution in such cases primarily relies on the evidence of official witnesses particularly seizing officers to prove lawful recovery of contraband. In most cases as in the present case, independent witnesses are either not examined or turn hostile. There may be myriad reasons for that ranging from false implication to winning over of such witnesses by resourceful accuseds.”
The Court issued the various directives to ensure that the ‘unvarnished truth’ is placed before the Court during adjudication.
The Court emphasised once more that the aforementioned necessity of recording recovery processes is applicable to all Central agencies authorised by the NDPS Act to search for and seize narcotics.
“Accordingly, it is proposed directive Nos. (i), (ii) and (iv) shall apply to all seizing officers of the Central agencies empowered to search and seize narcotics under NDPS Act. Directive Nos. (v) and (vi) shall apply to the head of the department of the Central agency concerned while Directive Nos. (iii) and (iv) shall apply to all superior officers of the said agency not below the rank as prescribed by the head of the department”, the Court ordered further.