When One Is Caught Red-Handed By The Customs Officers For The Possession Of Cannabis: In Gauhati High Court

The NDPS Act forbids or limits the manufacture, cultivation, sale, possession, trading, purchase, use, consumption, and shipping of psychoactive drugs and narcotic narcotics, save for research or medical purposes. The High Court Of Gauhati upheld this through a single learned bench M.R. JUSTICE AJIT BORTHAKUR in NAVRATAN LAL SONI V. SUPERINTENDENT OF CUSTOMS PREVENTIVE UNIT (Case No. : Crl.A./160/2017).

Facts of the case – It is alleged that the complainant, a former Inspector of Customs who was assigned to the H.Q. Customs Preventive Unit, Office of the Commissioner, North Eastern Region Shillong, has jurisdiction over all North Eastern States. And he is responsible for investigating NDPS Act violations. He received information that a shipment of ganja (cannabis) was being shipped from Imphal to Uttar Pradesh via Silchar by one truck bearing the Registration Number RJ-14-GB-6731 and was being hidden. Officers from the mentioned Customs section went to the Silchar Jiribam road and maintained a close eye on the route and the surrounding regions. The authorities intercepted/detected one Tata truck carrying the Registration No. mentioned above being parked at ISBT, Rongpur (near Silchar), where the accused-appellant was discovered. Officers discovered a scent emerging from the rooftop of the driver’s compartment after a thorough check of the vehicle. A secret room erected on the roof of the truck was discovered after a comprehensive search. In the presence of witnesses, a panchanama was drawn, pictures were taken, vehicle paperwork was seized, and an inventory was created. The insurance paperwork recovered 47 packages of suspected ganja (cannabis) worth Rs.23,78,050/- and a vehicle valued at Rs.8,75,000/-. The prosecution case was started when the Customs Department filed a complaint under section 36A against the accused-appellant.

Mr. Y.S. Mannan, skilled counsel for the appellant, argued that the accused/appellant was convicted solely based on speculation and conjecture on the prosecution witnesses’ uncorroborated evidence. Mr. Mannan also claimed that, based on the testimony of P.Ws 1 and 2, the weight of the confiscated contraband could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Mr. Mannan also claimed that the accused/appellant was not allowed to explain his circumstances concerning all of the material aspects of the evidence and that the prosecution did not question the forensic expert who tested a sample of the seized contraband in an attempt to validate the F.S.L. report.

Ms. P. Das, appearing on behalf of Mr. S.C. Keyal, learned Standing Counsel for the Customs Department/respondent, argued that the impugned judgment and order of conviction of the accused/appellant are well-reasoned and based on sound constitutional principles. No intervention in the appeal is required. Ms. Das further claimed that P.Ws 3, 4, 5, and 6, who are responsible and fair customs officers, provided persuasive corroborating evidence testimony supporting the incriminating documentary evidence presented at trial and that they survived the accused cross-examination. Ms. Das also claims that a commercial volume of contraband ganja was apprehended from the accused’s truck, which was in his sole physical possession of seizure. After chemical analysis and testing, the F.S.L., Assam, reported that the same had tested positive for cannabis. The report mentioned above is a shred of substantive evidence under Section 294(3) Cr.P.C.

Concerning the accused/statement appellant’s recorded under Section 313 Cr.P.C., it is noted that the learned Trial Special Judge had given him the chance to clarify all of the problematic conditions in evidence that emerged against him. Still, he has not led any defense evidence, and as such, this Court believes that he has not been prejudiced in any way. In light of the preceding and the absence of any contrary evidence, this Court considers that the prosecution has established beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused/appellant was discovered in intentional and exclusive ownership of illicit ganja (cannabis) weighing 470.900 kgs. The learned Trial Court correctly found him guilty of the charge as mentioned above, and the challenged well-reasoned judgment and order should not be disturbed.

Click here to view the Judgement

Reviewed by Rangasree.

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