The Heroin Stain

Last fortnight, while extending the custody of a Chennai couple held in connection with the Rs 21,000-crore heroin haul from Mundra port, the Special Court for Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) in Bhuj, Kutch (Gujarat), on September 30, sought to know if the Mundra Adani Port had acquired any interest from the import of narcotics. The Special Court of Additional District Judge CM Pawar also wanted to know why the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) did not probe the source of the heroin in Afghanistan.

A couple, Machavaram Sudhakar and his wife Govindaraju Durga Purna Vaisali, were arrested on September 17. The Bhuj court granted DRI their custody till September 20. The DRI also arrested Coimbatore resident Rajkumar P and recovered narcotics from other places in raids held after the Mundra seizure. Four Afghan nationals and one Uzbek national have also been arrested. After getting credible information that the consignment contained drugs from Afghanistan, DRI officers seized two containers and sent samples for examination. A forensic analysis of the seized substance confirmed the presence of heroin.

The consignment was imported by a trading company registered in Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh. It was declared as semi-processed talc stones originating from Afghanistan and shipped from Bandar Abbas Port in Iran to Mundra Port in Gujarat. The importer was identified as Sarvim Exports, which is located at Derawal Nagar in Delhi. The cargo was declared as an Ayurvedic product, mulethi (licorice), and the drugs were hidden in plastic pipes painted to resemble bamboo. On September 26, while hearing the remand application of Rajkumar P, the Court had directed the DRI to probe if any benefit was gained by the Adani Group by virtue of the consignment of banned contraband landing at its port in Mundra.

According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan is one of the biggest exporters of narcotic drugs, and as per estimates, it accounts for nearly 85% of global heroin supplies. Following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on August 15, there have already been multiple meetings among central agencies to discuss the impact in terms of drugs smuggling, infiltration of foreign terrorists and terror activities in India. Making it a political issue, Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh on October 1 demanded a judicial inquiry into the seizure of heroin at the Mundra Port in Gujarat, saying that he had no faith in the National Investigation Agency.

Mundra Port is the largest private port of India located on the north shores of the Gulf of Kutch near Mundra in the Kutch district of Gujarat. It is a private port and also a special economic zone. Incorporated in 1998 as Gujarat Adani Port Limited (GAPL), the company began operating it in 2001. The combined company was renamed Mundra Port and Special Economic Zone Limited. The development of Adani Port & Special Economic Zone Limited was conceptualised by entrepreneur Gautam Adani. The Adani Group has issued a clarification stating that it is only the port operator and does not have the authority to check shipments arriving at the port.

The Narcotics Control Bureau has found that while Mumbai is the cocaine capital of India, the country is also used as a route for trafficking cocaine to other parts of the world. India has become a favourite destination of cocaine, the supply of which is controlled by the powerful drug group of South American countries.

The major drug laws of India are the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) (1985) and the Prevention of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (1988). Under one of the provisions of the Act, the Narcotics Control Bureau was set up with effect from March 1986. The Act is designed to fulfill India’s treaty obligations under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. The Act has been amended three times—in 1988, 2001, and most recently, in 2014.

The Act allows the court to grant immunity to an addict if he/she is found involved in a case dealing with tracing the amount of drugs. The immunity, however, is granted only after the accused agrees to undergo medical treatment for de-addiction under Section 64A. Someone who has only consumed banned drugs or narcotics but is not involved in trading, can get bail.

Section 31A of the Act states that the maximum punishment in cases under the NDPS Act is death penalty. The death penalty can be given to a person found guilty of being involved with commercial quantities of drugs.

Section 8(c) of the NDPS Act prohibits the production, manufacturing, possession, selling, purchase, transport, warehouse, use, consumption, inter-state import and export, import to and from India or tranship of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance, except for medical or scientific purposes, and requires a licence or permit by the concerned authorities.

Under Section 27, the consumption of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance is a punishable offence. In Section 35 of the Act, it is presumed that the accused knew what they were doing. Hence, the accused will be guilty unless proven innocent. Consumption of cocaine carries up to one year of imprisonment, whereas consumption of charas or cannabis carries up to 6 months’ imprisonment.

Under the Union Finance Ministry, the Department of Revenue had in 2015 passed an order to all state governments stating that seized drugs must be destroyed as earliest as possible in order to avoid its misuse or theft. In 2015, the government added Mephedrone or meth, as a psychotropic substance. The amendment was made after the drug grew popular among the youth.

In April this year the apex court, while holding that a private vehicle is not a “public place” under the NDPS Act, acquitted three men accused of possessing poppy, saying they were charged under the wrong section. The judgment came from a bench headed by Justice UU Lalit which said that recovery of a banned substance from a private vehicle parked on a public road wouldn’t be covered under Section 43 of the NDPS Act—the provision used for recovery of the banned substance.

The bench, however, said that such cases can be covered under Section 42 of the Act. While Section 43 of NDPS Act deals with the power of seizure and arrest in a public place, Section 42 gives a designated officer powers of “entry, search, seizure or arrest” in a suspected narcotics case.

A committee, headed by Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment, was set up by the Union ministry of Environment and Forests to inspect the ship-breaking facility of M/s Adani Port and SEZ Limited near Mundra West Port in Gujarat’s Kutch district. The committee which submitted its report on April 18, 2013, found incontrovertible evidence of destruction of mangroves, blocking of creeks and non-compliance of other clearance conditions. Subsequently, on July 29, 2013, a public hearing was held where people from four affected villages posed questions about the project and its impact on the environment.

The latest seizure from the Mundra port and the quantity involved suggests that it is ideally located for such consignments to make its way to Mumbai. Adani is India’s second richest individual and unlikely to be involved in smuggling contraband but if any of the officials hired to run the port are found to be involved, it could put a dent in his reputation.

—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal News Service
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