SC upholds Conviction under NDPS, but reduces sentence [Read Judgment]

Yesterday , in the case of Jeet Ram vs The Narcotics Control Bureau, Chandigarh (Criminal Appeal No. 688 of 2013), a three Judges Bench of the Supreme Court upheld a Conviction under NDPS Act, holding that High Court can re-appreciate evidence, even if the trial court has taken another view.

Background

The appellant-accused was tried under Section 20 of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. The Sessions Judge by judgment dated 30.06.2003 acquitted the accused by recording a finding that the case of the prosecution was not free from doubt and there were many infirmities in case of the prosecution to hold that the accused was found to be in possession of charas, as alleged by the prosecution.

NCB, Chandigarh filed an appeal under Section 36-B of the NDPS Act read with Section 378 of Cr.P.C. before the High Court of Himachal Pradesh at Shimla.

The High Court by reappreciating the evidence on record concluded that the prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt and also has proved that 13 Kg. of charas was recovered from the possession of the appellant-accused, who was managing the dhaba in question, and set aside the judgment of the trial court and ordered conviction of the Appellant for an offence punishable under Section 20 of the NDPS Act. The High Court sentenced him to rigorous imprisonment for 15 years and to pay fine of Rs.2,00,000/- and in default, to undergo further imprisonment of one year.

Challenging the Order of High Court, an appeal was filed before the Supreme Court, which was numbered as (Criminal Appeal No. 688 of 2013).

Contention of Appellant:

  1. Well-considered judgment of the trial court acquitting the Appellant from the charge is reversed by the High Court without recording cogent reasons.
  2. Assuming that another view is possible; the same is no ground to interfere with the judgment of the trial court. 
  3. Counsel for the NCB relied upon the Judgments of the Supreme Court in the case of Union of India v. Bal Mukund & Ors. (2009) 12 SCC 161); Francis Stanly v. Intelligence Officer, Narcotic Control Bureau, Thiruvananthapuram (2006) 13 SCC 210; and Rangaiah v. State of Karnataka (2008) 16 SCC 737, to support his submission.
  4. Story of the prosecution is not supported by any independent witness.

Contention of NCB:

  1. Findings recorded by the trial court are erroneous and contrary to the evidence on record, as such, it is always open to the High Court in appeal to reappreciate the evidence and set aside such erroneous view taken by the trial court. 
  2. NCB has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
  3. Merely because independent witnesses were not examined, the same by itself is no ground to reject the case of the prosecution.
  4. The Counsel for the NCB relied on various Judgments to strengthen the above submissions.

The three Judges Bench of Supreme Court comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice M.R. Shah and Justice R.Subhash Reddy, refused to interfere with the conviction of the Appellant, however, considering the age of the Appellant, the Court reduced the sentence from 15 years to 10 years.

The Court observed that:

  1. High Court has rightly relied upon the Judgment of Supreme Court in the case of State of H.P. v. Pawan Kumar [(2005) 4 SCC 350], wherein it has held that Section 50 of the NDPS Act is applicable only in the case of personal search.
  2. It is also fairly well settled that where accused offers false answers in examination under Section 313 Cr.PC, same also can be used against him.
  3. Appellate Court can always reappreciate the evidence, on which the order of acquittal is founded, and appellate courts are vested with the powers to review and come to their own conclusion.

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