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Quantity of substance falls within “such factors as it may deem fit” under S.32B NDPS Act, while imposing the sentence higher than the minimum: Supreme Court

On an appeal regarding the punishment under section 21 of NDPS Act, 1985 where the Special Court and High Court award 20 years of R.I, the supreme court held that the reasons for giving more than the minimum stipulated punishment is not restricted to section 32B and the quantity of the substance is a determining factor. This judgment was passed in the case of Gurudev Singh vs. State of Punjab [Cr.A.No.375/2021], by a Double Bench consisting of Hon’ble Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, and Hon’ble Justice M.R. Shah.

The present appeal was preferred against the impugned judgment of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana where the court upheld the conviction of the accused and sentence passed for the office punishable under section 21 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (the Act) by the Special Court with 15 years of Rigorous imprisonment and rs. 2 lakhs of fine. The supreme court clarified that it would only address the issue regarding the question of a sentence of 15 years R.I. with fine of Rs.2 Lakhs and in default to undergo a further one year R.I. will be considered. The counsel for the appellant submitted that the minimum punishment was 10 years under section 21 of the Act the factors mentioned under section 32B of the Act have to be taken into consideration to increase the imprisonment. The appellant contended that these reasons were not mentioned in the high court order or the special court order while increasing the punishment. The respondent opposing the same contended that the accused was found with 1kg heroin which was 4 times greater than the commercial quantity. They also contended that the reasons for the increase in punishment cannot be restricted or limited to the reasons under section 32B of the Act.

The supreme court heard both party’s contention before giving its observation and judgment. The Court observed that under section 21 of the Act the minimum punishment would be 10 years and may extend to 20 years. Further, while section 32B of the Act provided for factors that the court should take into consideration while increasing the punishment the section also provides that the reasons for increasing the punishment need not be restricted or limited to those mentioned within it. The court held in the case referred to by the appellants themselves, it was decided, the quantity of the substance with which the accused is charged is a relevant factor, which can be taken into consideration while fixing the quantum of punishment.

The supreme court held that the quantity of substance would fall into “such factors as it may deem fit” and while imposing the sentence higher than the minimum, if the Court took into consideration such factor of larger/higher quantity, it cannot be said that the Court committed an error.

While the court was addressing the contention that punishment under section 21 restricts personal liberty, It was held that the objective of the NDPS act was to give more stringent punishments since the previous sanctions were not sufficient and the various types of drugs kept evolving with time.

The Supreme Court concluded by holding, “merely because the accused is a poor man and/or a carrier and/or is a sole bread earner cannot be such mitigating circumstances in favour of the accused while awarding the sentence/punishment in the case of NDPS Act. there is no substance in the present appeal and the same deserves to be dismissed and is accordingly dismissed.”

Click here for the Judgment.

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