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'High' time Indian drug laws are sent to rehab

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Trapped in the vicious circle of substance abuse, India is home to approximately 3 million drug addicts. The National Crime Records Bureau’s data, as published in 2014, reported that India witnesses nearly 10 suicides on a daily basis due to substance addiction.

India passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, (NDPS Act) in 1985 which was subsequently amended in 1989, 2001 and recently, in 2014. India’s leading anti-drug law prescribes stiff penalties for drug traffickers and rehabilitation for the users. Framed with the intent to combat drug trafficking, it forbids and criminalises the cultivation, production, sale, purchase, possession, use, consumption, import and export of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. It provides immunity in situations where the drugs are utilised for medical or scientific purposes.

The NDPS Act came into existence to envisage strict punishments for drug trafficking, to augment implementation powers, enforce international conventions that India is a party to and to regulate psychotropic substances. A predominantly punitive statute, NDPS provides for the regulation of drugs. It states that death penalty can be awarded as a form of punishment under the Act. The 2014 amendment held that the decision to award death penalty lies at the discretion of the court and instead stipulates 30 years of imprisonment as a substitute.

In order to supplement the NDPS Act, the Prevention of Illicit Traffcking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act came into force in 1988. It contains provisions pertaining to the preventive detention of any and every individual who is suspected of or charged with drug trafficking.

The concern for combatting drug trafficking amplified once the judiciary began to rely on Article 47 of the Indian Constitution, which prescribes the restriction on the use of drugs and directs the State to strive to suppress and abolish the use of drugs, except when it is used for scientific purposes. The extant legislation covers three classes of substances, which are narcotic drugs (cocoa leaf, poppy straw, opium and cannabis), psychotropic substances (Amphetamines, methamphetamines, LSD, MDMA) and controlled substances (used in the manufacture of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance).

Referred to as a hasty piece of legislation that was passed under immense pressure, India’s principal law to tackle drug trafficking isn’t free from pitfalls. It lacks a clear demarcation between the definition of a consumer and an addict. The definitions in place is neither backed by laws nor by morals. It mentions terms like consumption, possession and use but fails to elucidate what they truly mean. The absence of any political initiative in setting up machinery authorised to regulate and enforce rehabilitation acts as a bottleneck. The paucity of associated institutions responsible for coaching the judicial machinery, the inadequate rehabilitation facilities and other such factors has furthered the incapacity of law to manage the widespread drug menace in India. The ineffective enforcement of the statute and the dearth of rehabilitative institutions has only added to the list of shortcomings. Harsh and stringent, the statute heavily encumbers the criminal justice system.

The strictness of the NDPS Act is evinced by the provision for awarding death penalty in cases of repeated offences, like the production, manufacture, possession, transportation, import and export of drugs.

The lack of data and statistics regarding drug addiction in no way whatsoever arises from the absence of substance abuse. A glaring gap, the range of drug abuse and its consequences on one’s health and overall well-being remains unchartered territory. The paucity of data with respect to the nature and extent of drug dependence, which are key factors to be examined before formulating drug policies, hinders the accomplishment of the statute’s objective. 

Provisions of criminalising the use of drugs, penalising the possession of drugs for personal use, imposing capital punishment and other aspects of the legislation are far harsher than those mentioned in the UN drug control conventions. Notwithstanding the efforts taken by civil society groups to display the ineffectiveness of these severe provisions, law makers have neither assessed nor replaced these mechanisms. Drug policy implementation is undertaken by not only the central and state governments, but also by ministries. In turn, this gives rise to situations of abandoning one’s responsibility and overlapping in the enforcement.

Unless effective measures are taken immediately, the reformative aim of the legislation will go in vain. Although luminaries and society’s representatives can be called in to evaluate and suggest alterations in the drug policy, these measures have not yet been put into use. Examining the harsh provisions and respecting the rights of all those individuals who depend on drugs is a must. Strengthening the link between Government departments and contacting civil society representations such as academicians, medical experts and patient groups can espouse effective formulation of drug policies. Conducting research and collecting data on drug dependence, substance use and the implications on the health of those who inject drugs can help pave the way to a successful war against drug abuse. The reformation of the NDPS Act itself is the first stride to be taken if the Government truly seeks to reaffirm its commitment towards eliminating India’s drug crisis.

Tagged in: drug abuse NDPS act


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