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While Granting Punishment Under NDPS Act, Poverty Is Not A Mitigating Factor: Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court in a judgement on 6 April 2021, observed that just because the accused was poor and the sole bread earner of the family, it should not act as the mitigating factor while awarding punishment or sentence for a crime committed under NDPS Act. 

Facts of the Case

In the present case, the accused was the original Appellant and was found to be in possession of 1kg of heroin. The quantity which was possessed by the accused was four times more than the minimum of commercial quantity, i.e., 250gm. The quantity above 250gm was considered as commercial quantity as per the NDPS Act. In addition to it, the accused was also found to be selling the narcotic substance/drugs. The Special Court found the accused guilty of the crime punishable under Section 21 of the Act and sentenced him to 15 years R.I. and a fine of Rs.2 lakhs, plus one year R.I. if the fine was not paid. This judgement of the special Court was also approved by the High Court and it dismissed the appeal petition of the accused. As a result of this, the Appellant approached the Supreme Court. 

Pleadings before the Court

It was submitted by the Learned Counsel on behalf of the Appellant that Section 32B of the Act requires the Court to consider the factors mentioned in Section 32B of the Act and assign reasons when imposing a punishment greater than the minimum term of imprisonment, which in this case was 15 years R.I. In the present case, neither the Special Court nor the High Court had given any reasons for granting a 15-year sentence, despite the fact that the factors mentioned in Section 32B of the Act were taken into account. It was further submitted that the defendant was a first-time criminal who was poor and just served as a carrier. Since the key source of the narcotic drug was yet to be apprehended/arrested, and the Appellant-accused was a carrier, a penalty greater than the Act’s minimum was not required. Furthermore, this Hon’ble Court has repeatedly held that imposing an appropriate sentence was a matter of personal liberty covered by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and that mitigating and aggravating factors must be given equal weightage.

On the other hand, the learned counsel on behalf of the Respondent submitted that in the facts and circumstances of the case, neither the Learned Special Court nor the High Court made a mistake in imposing a sentence of 15 years R.I., which was greater than the Act’s minimum sentence. It was further submitted that the sentence/imprisonment levied by the learned Trial Court and accepted by the High Court of 15 years R.I. with a fine of Rs.2 lakhs was not to be interfered with because the accused was found to be in possession of 1 kg heroin, which was much higher than the commercial quantity and four times greater than the minimum commercial quantity, and was found to be trafficking narcotic substance/drugs.

Court’s Observation

In this case, the bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah had observed that many who trade in narcotic drugs were instruments in the death or infliction of death blows on a large number of innocent young victims who are vulnerable; it has deleterious consequences and a deadly impact on society; they are a danger to society. As a consequence, when implementing a sentence/punishment under the NDPS Act, the public interest and effect on society as a whole must be weighed, and when striking a balance between mitigating and aggravating circumstances, the public interest and impact on society as a whole will often be skewed in favour of the acceptable higher punishment.

It was further observed that in the case of the NDPS Act, the fact that the accused was a poor man, a carrier, and/or a single bread earner could not be considered as mitigating factors in determining the sentence/punishment.

Court’s Judgement

The Supreme Court, in this case, upheld the decision of the High Court and the Special Court while observing that the amount of narcotic drug recovered is an important factor that can be considered when implementing a penalty that is greater than the standard under the NDPS Act.

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