Assuming an accused, realized that Ganja was being loaded, he could perhaps do little but to remain a mute spectator: Supreme Court

There was no definite evidence to establish that the appellant knowingly committed the offense. Although assuming that he realized that “ganja” was being loaded, he could perhaps do little but to remain a mute spectator to the commission of the offense, or else he would have risked his job which was his only means of survival. This judgment was passed by the Supreme Court in the case of M. Sampat vs State of Chhatisgarh [Criminal Appeal No. 378 OF 2021 (Arising out of S.L.P.(Crl.) No. 1987/2021)] consisting of a division bench comprising J. Indira Banerjee and J. Krishna Murari.

The facts were that the police received a piece of secret information that certain people driving an unnumbered white Maruti Omni van and a truck, were carrying “ganja” of about 26 kgs and 3327 kgs respectively, while they were returning from Jagdalpur towards Andhra Pradesh. The three persons who were in the van were later acquitted. However, criminal proceedings were initiated against the driver of the truck and the appellant(conductor) and they were held guilty by the Special Judge who imposed rigorous imprisonment of 20 years accompanied by a fine of Rs.2 lakhs under Section 20(b)(ii)(C) of the NDPS Act. Aggrieved by this judgment of conviction they appealed before the Chhattisgarh High Court. While these proceedings were going on the driver died. The High Court partly allowed the appeal wherein it reduced their punishment from 20 years to 15 years of imprisonment and Rs.2 lakh to Rs.2 lakhs.

Subsequently, aggrieved by the decision of the High Court, the appellant filed a criminal appeal before the Supreme Court through a Special Leave Petition. Ms. Priyanjali Singh was appointed as amicus curiae on behalf of the appellant. She argued that the appellant who was not the owner of the truck, but only a poor conductor of about 22/23 years could not possibly have committed the alleged offense and he was not even aware of the fact that ‘ganja’ was being carried in the truck. However, the Supreme Court did not find any cogent ground to interfere with the concurrent findings of the High Court and the trial Court convicting the appellant as a huge quantity of 3327 kgs of ‘ganja’ was being carried on the truck and it cannot be assumed that the appellant was unaware of that fact.

The Supreme Court, however, opined that the order of sentence passed by the trial court did not disclose the reasons for awarding the maximum punishment to the Appellant. It neither considered the extent of involvement of the appellant nor considered if there were any extenuating circumstances for imposing a lesser punishment. The apex court also held that there was no definite evidence to establish that the appellant knowingly committed the said offense. The Court concluded and held that “an indigent helper on a truck, only 22/23 years of age at the time of incident and a first time offender, and considering that nothing was recovered from his custody except for documents pertaining to the vehicle, of which he was a helper (described as conductor), we deem it appropriate to reduce the sentence of imprisonment to the period already undergone, which in any case, far exceeds the minimum sentence of imprisonment of 10 years.” Therefore, the appeal was partly allowed.

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