Busted in Bollywood

By Dr Swati Jindal Garg

It is said that every time you cross a barrier, the drug increases in value. This explains how the drug trade has grown into such a gigantic criminal enterprise sprawling across the globe. With multiple arrests happening in Mumbai after raids on a cruise ship, it is becoming more and more difficult to deglorify drug abuse. Several Bollywood celebrities have vouched for the fact that drug culture prevails at a large scale in Bollywood, and without it, it is difficult to get accepted in the hallowed portals of La La land! The most recent controversy in this is that of Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan who the Narcotic Control Bureau (NCB) took into custody following a drug bust on a cruise ship off the coast of Mumbai.

Khan’s case is not a lone case in this context. There have been multiple other cases in the recent past involving big Bollywood names that have been allegedly involved in drug culture. The biggest name in this is that of Sanjay Dutt who has opened up about his encounter with drugs in various interviews. Rajkumar Hirani’s 2018 film Sanju chronicled Dutt’s drug addiction. A close friend of the actor mentions: “Whenever the actor visits any college or institution, he openly addresses the students that he was a drug addict and shares his experience and tells the students to not go close to the menace. He even tells them that peer pressure may tempt you but don’t fall for it.” Dutt is now a part of the Drug-free India campaign promoted by The Art of Living Foundation.

Fardeen Khan, who was arrested in 2001 while he was in possession of 9 gm of cocaine, also decided to undergo a detox programme and was later granted bail with immunity in 2012. The actor is now concentrating on his health in order to make a comeback.

Another yesteryear star Armaan Kohli was also arrested in August 2021 after the NCB conducted a raid in his house in Juhu, Mumbai, and recovered a small amount of drugs from his house. The star immediately shot to fame after his appearance in Big Boss where he got involved with Tanisha Mukherjee, Kajol’s sister.

The Rhea Chakraborty case is also a recent one, in fact one that is still going on in the courts and the final verdict is yet to come. With Rhea claiming that Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR) was addicted to marijuana, the spotlight was once again thrown on Bollywood’s alleged drug link when SSR was found dead in his flat last year. In fact, it is believed that the NCB is pre­paring a dossier of Bollywood celebrities whose names were reportedly mentioned by Rhea in her statement.

Bollywood’s link to drugs is not new and there have been confessions and arrests of film stars in the past. In fact, whenever any drug peddler is arrested, it is immediately discovered that he was supplying drugs to Bollywood celebrities. There are a number of celebrities who claim that drugs are an intrinsic part of their creative routines and that they can’t “manage without them”.

Actress Kunicka Lall says that Bollywood is not the only industry that has a drug connection. “In today’s time, we are living a highly stressful life coupled with aspirations. Drugs are everywhere—be it media, corporate world, or Page 3 parties. Bollywood has always been an insecure place with an unsure life,” says the actress.

She mentions that today’s stars need to maintain their physique and alcohol is not an option for them so the only option they are left with, which will help them not to put on weight, yet give that effect is drugs. Kunicka mentions that the CBD oil which was mentioned in SSR’s case is used for relaxation. She recalls the time when her co-actor Jackie Shroff freely indulged in hash on the sets of his film. “Jackie Shroff smoked hash but that did not affect his work; though he would have mood swings,” she says and adds: “Ganja is part of our culture and if you go to Kumbh, you will get ganja and charas worth crores of rupees and if you go to Kumbh Mela you will find ganja on your plate. So what’s the big deal?”

The connection of drugs with Bollywood is so strong that there are even drugs that are named after some Bollywood celebrities. Actress Kangana Ranaut recently made a statement that 99% of Bollywood takes drugs and demanded a drug test on them while clarifying that she does not do drugs.

All drugs have a market value that not only depends on their composition but also on their geographical location—in Columbia, producing a gram of cocaine costs less than producing a pound of coffee, however the price of cocaine ends up to be much higher due to the risk involved in transporting and selling it. The market value of drugs also depends on the laws of demand and supply and as the demand for drugs is inelastic due to its being addictive, the suppliers have the luxury of charging whatever they want for their goods.

In India, the major percentage of addicted teens hail from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh (60%) and 35% of them come from Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Another statistic worth noting is that out of the 7% people in India that commit suicide, 3.3% were under the influence of drugs. The consumption of these drugs may be through various methods like smoking, injecting or snorting, depending upon the personal preference of the consumer. Some of the most popular drugs are Codeine, Fentanyl and Fentanyl analogs, Heroine, Morphine, Opium, Oxycodone HCL, Hydrocodone bitartrate, LSD, etc.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, commonly referred to as the NDPS Act, prohibits a person from producing/manufacturing/cultivating, possessing, selling, purchasing, transporting, storing, and/or consuming any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance. The NCB was set up under this Act with effect from March 1986. The Act is a step in the right direction as India had no legislation regarding narcotics until 1985.

In 1994, a committee was set up to establish how the exploitation of this law could be stopped. The NDPS Act was then amended to say that it was the quantity of drugs that would determine the extent of punishment. So, if self-use is proven, then the punishment is much lesser. In 2001, this was amended again to distinguish between personal consumption and commercial use. Six years ago, the death sentence was also done away with.

The problem with this law unlike other laws is that while in other laws the rule is innocent until proven guilty, here it is guilty until proven innocent. On the other hand, loopholes in the NDPS Act, 1985, enable the drug mafia to go scot-free even after being arrested by the police, and are a big cause of concern in dealing with the drug menace.

The drug mafia, through its peddlers, exploits the weak links of the Act. The Act is stringent for peddlers who are caught with higher quantity of drugs and they are booked under non-bailable offences, but those peddlers who are caught with less quantity are booked in bailable offences and come out of prison within days. Fifty nine grams of marijuana and a small amount of psychotropics was found from one of the dealers in the Rhea Chakraborty case. The law says that possession of ganja (cannabis) up to 1 kg is allowed. Mafia and peddlers are well aware of this fact that even if they are caught in the process, they will be out within days and it will not affect their business.

Section 67 of the NDPS Act gives the power to any officer to summon anybody under any offence if the officer thinks that the person’s input will be important in cracking the case hence actors like Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan, Shraddha Kapoor have been summoned in this regard and not as accused in the case.

In the latest case, Khan and seven others have been charged with various sections of the NDPS Act. The NCB has invoked four sections of the Act so far, including Section 8(c) that has wide provisions for producing, manufacturing, possessing, selling, purchasing, transporting, using, consuming, importing, exporting any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance. Section 8(c) has been read with three other sections, namely Section 20(b) which relates to the use of cannabis; Section 27 which relates to the consumption of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance; and Section 35 which is a presumption of culpable mental state. The NCB has also claimed that among the seized drugs at the cruise ship are 13 gms of cocaine, 5 gms of mephedrone, 22 pills of MDMA (Ecstasy)—all categorised as “intermediate” quantity and 21 gms of charas, which falls in the category of “small” quantity as per the NDPS Act.

While the NCB has not clarified from whom and where these drugs have been seized, the court was told that the offences against Khan are bailable. It is also noteworthy that since the category of cannabis is “small” as per the NDPS Act, the maximum punishment would be six months or a fine of Rs 10,000 or both. Section 27, which is a charge for consumption, has a maximum charge of one year.

The central agency said that it was investigating “suspicious transactions” constituting offences under the NDPS Act. Its prosecutor also told the court that there is prima facie material in the form of WhatsApp chats showing nexus of respondents “with peddlers and suppliers on a regular basis”.

The central government has to take the initiative to amend the NDPS Act as the drug menace is spread across states and requires stringent laws to curb it. There are several laws which are floating around which do not serve any legal purpose and are easily misused. The need of the hour is not only legislation but also stricter implementation in order to curb the menace of drug abuse. The answer is not to pass a new law, or “Bollywood clean-up” as some are dubbing this, but to re-examine the NDPS law carefully.

The persons who are drafting the legislations should have a deep understanding of the subject. Opinions and views of experts in the field concerned should also be considered while making laws so that the practical aspects of a problem are not ignored and the ground reality is always kept in sight. While a perfect legislation that is made keeping all these points in mind is likely to bring positive results, a defective legislation will not only shatter the hopes of the legislators, but also leads to chaos, miscarriage of justice and injustice to the victims of such a poorly drafted law.

—The author is an Advocate-on-Record practising in the Supreme Court of India, Delhi High Court and all district courts and tribunals in Delhi
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