The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985 is the central law on control, regulation and prohibition of narcotic and psychotropic drugs in India. The Act was last amended in 2001, to rationalize punishment and adopt a sentencing structure based on the quantity of drugs involved. The stringent penal structure and rigid implementation of the NDPS Act created many problems including non-availability of opioid medication and lack of access to drug dependence treatment.
On 8th September, 2011, the Government introduced the NDPS (Amendment) Bill, 2011 in the Lok Sabha. The Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance on 13th September, 2011 for further consideration.
The Bill seeks to amend a number of provisions of the NDPS Act including:
•Modification of the definitions of ‘small’ and ‘commercial’ quantity to include the entire amount of drugs involved and not only the pure drug content [Section 2(xxiiia) and Section 2(viia)]
•Standardisation of punishment for consumption of drugs to a maximum of 6 months or fine [Section 27]
•Transfer of power to regulate “poppy straw concentrate” from the State to the Central Government [Sections 9 and 10]
•Widening provisions for forfeiture of illegally acquired property, wherein any property of a person who is alleged to be involved in illicit traffic whose source cannot be proved is termed as ‘illegally acquired property’ and liable to be seized [Sections 68-B, 68H and 68-O]
•Addition of the term ‘management’ to provisions on treatment for drug dependence [Section 71]
Concerns over the Bill
The proposed quantity definitions would have far reaching implications on sentencing for NDPS offences and may expose low-level drug offenders, including people who use drugs to stringent punishment. Despite standardisation of punishment for consumption of drugs, the policy of criminalisation of drug use remains unchanged. The overbroad scope of the forfeiture provision makes it susceptible to misuse and subject to constitutional challenges. Further still, the Bill fails to address key issues and contradictions that have arisen such as, death penalty for repeat offenders, immunity for treatment seeking, regulation of treatment centres, support for harm reduction measures and access to opioid medicines. Read more.
Some of these concerns are reflected in the Committee’s Report, which was presented to the Parliament on 21st March 2012. Read Standing Committee’s Report here.
Civil Society organizations have rejected some of the recommendations of the Standing Committee, including the suggestion to enhance penalties for the use and possession of drugs. Read civil society letter to the Ministry of Finance here.