‘Prosecution of drug addicts does not serve its stated objective of curbing drug consumption and worsens the situation’.


New Delhi: Consumption of drugs and its eradication has been a constant menace for law enforcement agencies, for abuse of drugs in anyway, if caught, could lead to prosecution. The developments in the arrest of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan tilts the drug-policing mechanism more against consumers than the drug peddlers.

Rather than uprooting the trafficking of drugs, the focus has mostly been on clamping down on the poor or the vulnerable consumers, whereas the drug traffickers go scot-free, continuing to increase their customer base. Highlighting the flaws in the application of Section 27 of the NDPS Act (Narcotics, Drugs or Psychotropic Substance), research published by Vidhi Legal Policy, an NGO, suggests prosecution of drug addicts does not serve its stated objective of curbing drug consumption and worsens the situation.

The research conducted by two scholars Naveed Ahmed and Neha Singhal says: “While criminalising any activity (such as theft or assault) typically causes harm to criminals (by way of fines and imprisonment) who victimise others, criminalisation of drug use is seen as a way to protect people from themselves. This is paradoxical, because such criminalisation harms the very people it intends to protect.”

While addressing India’s approach to drug consumption, the research reads: “India sees drug consumption as a criminal offence, believing that criminalising drug use is the strongest symbol of society’s condemnation. But this criminalisation leads to far more harm than mere drug use could ever do.”

The research contends that the writing of the law leaves much to be desired as it does not prescribe any procedure for determining what constitutes “consumption”.

“The law criminalises both problematic and non-problematic drug users. Non-problematic users are not a threat, either to themselves or others, while problematic users need medical attention. Criminalisation helps neither: the former are denied their right to be left alone, and the latter are deprived of the benefit of treatment. Courts have the power to send addicts, or problematic users to de-addiction centres; but they unquestioningly convict every single person brought before them to prison sentences or fines.”

While scrutinizing the results of such opaque laws, the research reads: “Maharashtra saw an average of 1766 NDPS (Narcotics Drugs or Psychotropic Substance) cases per year between 2010 and 2013 under the NDPS Act. From 2013 to 2014, the number of cases jumped more than five times to 14622. Since then, NDPS crime in Maharashtra has consistently remained high. Within Maharashtra, Mumbai contributes the lion’s share of these cases.” Further, the research deducts the data of cases involving trafficking which had remained constant through all these years, but the consumption cases had increased five times over from 2013 to 2014. “This distinction between trafficking and consumption is significant,” the research read. The research brings into notice that the law enforcement agencies have always stood more against the minnows than going against the sharks; taking drug traffickers to account can immensely reduce the chain of drug abuse.

“While it adopts a reformative approach towards addicts, this is not how it plays out on the ground. 97.7% cases in 2017 and 97.3% cases in 2018 involved ‘possession for personal consumption’. This signified an abrupt shift in policing policy, possibly because the political establishment had been asserting the importance of improved conviction rates.” The research also signifies the unequal treatment of poor convicts a cause of politics, “Various Maharashtra government resolutions passed during this period reinforce their focus on increased arrest and conviction rates. The law provided an easy recourse to fulfill an illusory goal of deterrence through arrest.”