Drug usage and the NDPS Act – Explained, pointwise

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Recently, Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) for the consumption, sale and possession of illegal drugs. The pandemic saw a rise in drug-related arrests and seizures. The Home Minister of Karnataka proclaimed that as of July 2021, drug seizures in the state were higher than all seizures for the last five years combined.

The local police seemed to have become more active in its pursuit, not for dealers but for users. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) also increasingly employs private WhatsApp chats of alleged drug consumers and claims this is a means to crack narcotics trafficking. But, the amended Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, does not require drug users to be imprisoned. This raises questions over the implementation of the Act and the usage of drugs in India.

What is the impact of the pandemic on Drug usage?

According to National Crime Records Bureau, there was a decrease of more than 27% in crimes related to personal consumption of drugs from 2019 to 2020. Even crimes related to drug trafficking had seen a drop of 2% in the same period.

But the pandemic period saw a rise in drug-related issues and seizures. However, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that the number of drug users has increased in the last two years.

What is Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act?

Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act was passed in 1985 to tackle the problem of illegal drugs in India. The Act establishes Narcotics Control Bureau as the apex drug law enforcement agency and empowers it to oversee the implementation of the NDPS Act and also the other International conventions related to it.

It prohibits the production, sale, purchase, transport and consumption of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. The act extends to the whole of India and also in aircraft and ships that are registered in India.

The NDPS Act has been amended thrice – in 1988, 2001 and 2014.

The original Act provided no immunity to drug addicts, and there was no real difference in treatment of the user and the dealer.

The Act was amended in 2001. After the amendment, the act became more tolerant and provided a distinction between a drug user and a drug dealer. The amendment was undertaken to focus on bigger fish: Those who smuggled the drugs and facilitated its trade. The objective of the amendment was to stop thinking of and treating drug users as hardened criminals, which they rarely are.

Punishment and rehabilitation: The Act prescribes quantity-based punishment. The Act differentiates between small and commercial quantities of various drugs.

NDPS Act provides harsh sentences for those convicted of offences involves smuggling. It even provides for the death penalty in some cases where a person is a repeat offender.

But the same act also provides for immunity from prosecution to those who are dependent on drugs (through Section 64). It also provides the setting up of treatment facilities for addicts (through Section 71).

What are the other steps taken by the Indian government to control drugs?

Seizure Information Management System (SIMS): Narcotics Control Bureau has developed the SIMS platform. It contains a complete online database of drug offences and offenders.

Narco Coordination Centre (NCORD): The Ministry of Home Affairs has constituted the NCORD in 2016. It is a mechanism to conduct regular meetings with various Central and State Agencies and facilitate coordination between them. In 2019, the NCORD system has been restructured into 4 tiers up to the district level by MHA for better coordination and cooperation.

Joint Coordination Committee (JCC): To monitor the investigation of large seizure cases, a Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) with Director General, Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) as its Chairman has been set up by the government in 2019.

India’s International collaborations to control the drug usage

India is a signatory to the UN Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971 and the Convention on Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988.

As a part of International cooperation, India has signed 26 Bilateral Agreements and 15 MoUs, and two agreements on security cooperation with different countries for combating illicit trafficking of NDPS and Chemical Precursors.

Read more: India signed 26 pacts to fight drug menace

Apart from that, the NCB also coordinates with various international organizations, such as SAARC Drug Offences Monitoring Desk (SDOMD), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), etc for sharing information and intelligence to combat transnational drug trafficking.

What are the challenges in curbing drug usage?

India’s geographic location: A major factor making India vulnerable to drug trafficking and consequent drug usage is its geographical location. India lies in close proximity to the major opium-producing regions of South West and South East Asia, known as the ‘Golden Crescent’ and the ‘Golden Triangle’, respectively.

Drug trafficking route

This makes India vulnerable to transit, trafficking and consumption of Opium derivatives in various forms along the known trafficking routes.

Legal availability of gateway drugs: Drugs such as tobacco, bhang are legally available in India. Tobacco is an experiment for many drug users at their initial stage or during childhood. Later they gradually progress to other drugs such as alcohol and then Heroin, Cocaine, Opium and other drugs.

High youth population: Currently, India has large young population with disposable income. With their willingness to take risks, the availability of drugs creates a drug addiction.

Misuse of the provisions of the NDPS Act: Instead of going behind drugs of commercial quantity, the officials focus more on small quantities. For example, arrests for personal consumption accounts for 93.3% in 2020 and 95.6% in 2019 of all arrests made in Mumbai under the NDPS Act.

Even though the law provides safety to drug users, it now becomes routine to arrest those suspected of drug consumption. This creates three major issues.

i) Continuous prevalence of small quantity drugs in society, thereby making occasional drug use a regular habit.

ii) Wastage of huge manpower and state exchequer for investigating, interrogating, arresting and prosecuting the small amounts of drug usage.

iii) Create overcrowding in prisons.

Apart from that, the government authorities also use the NDPS Act to snoop into people’s phones and look at their messages. This is a breach of privacy.

What can be done to reduce drug usage?

India can consider legalising Marijuana: A WHO study concluded Marijuana is not as unhealthy compared to alcohol and tobacco products. The study also mentions that the harms associated with marijuana use were greatly overestimated and society should respond to its use through progressive public health policies rather than bans.

So, India can consider legalising Marijuana. This will reduce the workload and free up precious police time and go after the big drug mafias.

Read more: Decriminalising Marijuana in India

Preventing misuse of the NDPS Act with training and awareness programs: The government can conduct training and awareness programs for law enforcement agencies to focus on the commercial quantity of drugs. This can release many young people landed in overcrowded jails whose only crime was using drugs alone.

At present, the enforcement agencies first arrest the person and then investigate the case. The training has to remind law enforcement authorities that the ability to arrest does not mean that an arrest should always be made.

Learn from the best performers: India can consider experiences from European and Latin American countries. In Europe and Latin American countries, it was found that non-punitive measures improved the health and well-being of drug addicts. So, India should decriminalise the provision on consumption.

In Iceland, a community-led approach resulted in drug reduction of 70-80% from its young population. So, India should involve all stakeholders such as parents, teachers, drug users, etc to reduce drug addiction.

Further, India should increase the number of counselling and rehabilitation centres. Further, these centres should be equipped with trained health workers to ensure sustained de-addiction of addicts.

Educate the youth: Education curriculum should include chapters on drug addiction, its impact and also on de-addiction. This will prevent children from experimenting with drugs.

In conclusion, to prevent drug usage India not only need strict legislation but also need a proper implementation along with the societal change to prevent it in future.


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