The Supreme Court on Friday declared that a private vehicle would not come within the expression of a public place as per the explanation given under the NDPS Act. The top court observed that the explanation to Section 43 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act shows that a private vehicle would not come within the expression of 'public place'.
Under section 42 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, a designated officer has powers of ‘entry, search, seizure or arrest’ in a suspected narcotics case.
Section 43 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act deals with the power of seizure and arrest in a public place.
In this case, two bags of poppy straw were recovered from the accused while they were sitting in a jeep at a public place. The high court held that the case of the accused would be covered by Section 43 of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and not by Section 42.
The accused contended before a bench comprising Justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph that their vehicle was private, and not a public conveyance, though it was parked on a public road, so the case would not come under Section 43 but would be governed by the provisions of Section 42 of the NDPS Act. The case was registered in 2002.
Since Section 42 having not been complied with at all, they were entitled to acquittal, they contended relying on Constitution Bench decision in Karnail Singh v. State of Haryana (2009) 8 SCC 539 and a subsequent decision in State of Rajasthan v. Jagraj Singh alias Hansa (2016) 11 SCC 687.
Total non-compliance of Section 42 is impermissible the bench noted the following conclusions made in Karnail Singh:
The officer on receiving the information [of the nature referred to in sub-section (1) of Section 42] from any person had to record it in writing in the register concerned and forthwith send a copy to his immediate official superior, before proceeding to take action in terms of clauses (a) to (d) of Section 42(1).
But if the information was received when the officer was not in the police station, but while he was on the move either on patrol duty or otherwise, either by mobile phone, or other means, and the information calls for immediate action and any delay would have resulted in the goods or evidence being removed or destroyed, it would not be feasible or practical to take down in writing the information given to him, in such a situation, he could take action as per clauses (a) to (d) of Section 42(1) and thereafter, as soon as it is practical, record the information in writing and forthwith inform the same to the official superior.
The bench said the evidence in the present case clearly shows that the vehicle was not a public conveyance but belonged to accused Gurdeep Singh. "The Registration Certificate of the vehicle, which has been placed on record, also does not indicate it to be a public transport vehicle. The explanation to Section 43 shows that a private vehicle would not come within the expression 'public place'," said the bench in its verdict passed.
The Haryana government counsel submitted that the courts below were right in observing that the instant case would be governed by the provisions of Section 43 of the NDPS Act. It was, however, accepted by the counsel that there was no material on record to conclude that the vehicle in question was a public conveyance.
In 2004, a trial court had acquitted accused Major Singh but convicted accused Boota Singh, Gurdeep Singh and Gurmohinder Singh under Section 15 of the NDPS Act and sentenced them to rigorous imprisonment of 10 years along with a fine of Rs 1 lakh, in default whereof they were directed to undergo further rigorous imprisonment for a period of two years. The accused appealed this order in the high court, which was dismissed.
The top court said: "On the strength of the decision of this court, the relevant provision would not be Section 43 of the NDPS Act but the case would come under Section 42 of the NDPS Act."
Releasing the accused, the top court said: "In the circumstances, the courts below fell in error in rejecting the submissions advanced on behalf of the appellants. We, therefore, allow this appeal, set aside the view taken by the high court and acquit the appellants of the charge levelled against them. The appellants be released forthwith unless their custody is required in connection with any other offence."
In the end we can conclude that the supreme court decision was absolutely right of saying that private vehicle is not a public place. The accused were charged imprisonment of 10 years with a fine of Rs. 1 lakh.