Officials say the abysmally poor conviction rate indicates how the stringent provisions of Narcotics Act are loosely applied.


NEW DELHI: Less than one-fourth of the cases that were registered in 2020 by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), which is the nodal agency to tackle drug distribution in the country, resulted in conviction. Similarly, only one-fifth of the people whom it arrested were ultimately convicted by the courts.
This abysmally poor rate of conviction, officials say, indicate how the stringent provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, the primary Act under which the NCB carries out its operations, are loosely applied, in many cases to get illegal benefits and “harass” people, as was evident most recently in the case of Aryan Khan, actor Shahrukh Khan’s son. In 2020, the NCB registered 59,806 cases across India. However, it could secure conviction only in 14,340 cases. (24% conviction rate). Similarly, of the 83,719 people who were arrested by the NCB in the said period, only 16,117 were found to be guilty by the courts (19% conviction rate). However, by the time the courts free the people who are in a large number of cases, as the numbers cited above indicate, arrested wrongly, a lot of time gets wasted during which the accused spends months in prison as an undertrial and suffers loss of income and prestige as he is presumed either to be a “drug peddler” or a “consumer”.
It is pertinent to mention that last week, a single judge bench of the Bombay High Court referred the question whether all offences under the NDPS Act are non-bailable to a larger bench. In 2019, the cases filed by the NCB were 72,721 and it could secure conviction in 32,085 cases. Of the 95,093 people arrested during the said period, only 35,495 were convicted.
The relevant numbers of 2018, too, paint a sorry picture for the NCB. It registered 63,137 cases that year, of which it could get conviction in only 28,333 cases. The number of people arrested in the same period was 81,778, out of which it could secure conviction in only 32,364 cases.
Earlier this year, the Union government had ordered action against former NCB officer Sameer Wankhede, a 2008 Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer, for the series of actions that he took to allegedly frame Aryan Khan. Wankhede was the Mumbai zonal director of NCB in October 2021, when he and his team went after Khan who was in prison for three weeks. The same NCB later in May 2022 told a court that no drugs were found in possession of Khan and another accused.
In 2020, the top five states as per the cases registered by the NCB were Uttar Pradesh (10,852), Punjab (6,909), Tamil Nadu (5,403), Kerala (4,968) and Maharashtra (4,714). The number of people arrested in the same year from the respective states were 12,013, 11,455, 6969, 5140 and 7437 respectively. Rajiv Mehta, who served as the NCB chief from January 2013 till January 2015, had specifically released a “handbook” for the NCB field officers so that they could do investigation better. In his book, Mehta had stated, “It has been our experience that quite often, even in cases where adequate evidence is available, the courts have acquitted the accused on technical ground due to incorrect application of the provisions of the NDPS Act. Time and again, such mistakes have been committed. As a consequence, even where the seizures are substantial and involvement of the accused is apparent, the accused has been able to get away scot-free. This not only demoralizes the investigating officer, but is also a setback to the organization in the fight against drugs.”