Supreme Court admits Harm Reductionists’ intervention in immunity from prosecution for drug offences case
10th August, Delhi: The Supreme Court allowed the Indian Harm Reduction (IHRN) to intervene and assist the Court in a case related to the interpretation of Section 64A of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS), a crucial provision that intersects between criminal justice and health for persons who use drugs.
IHRN’s application was admitted in the matter of Aatish Suraj v State of NCT, Delhi SLP (Crl) No. 1965 of 2011, an appeal arising from the rejection of the petitioner’s plea for exemption from prosecution for possession of 20 grams of cannabis, despite undergoing addiction treatment at the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre run by the All India Institute for Medical Sciences, as provided in Section 64A of the NDPS Act.
Use and possession of drugs are punishable under the NDPS Act. Criminal proceedings can, however, be waived under Section 64A if the accused is: – i) dependent on drugs, ii) is charged with consumption or for offences involving small quantity of drugs and, iii) volunteers to receive treatment for drug dependence at a government recognized institution. Proceedings may be reinstated if treatment is left halfway.
For people who use drugs, this provision depenalises personal use and possession of small amounts and encourages treatment seeking. Unlike countries in South East Asia, where drug users can be forced into ‘rehabilitation’ by law, under Section 64A, enrolment into treatment is at the instance of the user, and not ordered by law enforcement or judicial authorities.
Courts in India have, thus far, ignored the compassionate spirit and intent of the law by imposing arbitrary restrictions on immunity claims. As a result, drug users have been denied the protection accorded by Section 64A and left blighted with jail terms and criminal record(s).
It is in this context that the Supreme Court bench comprising Justice H.S Bedi and Justice G S Mishra, impleaded IHRN as a party to the case, which raises issues of public interest. In interpreting Section 64A, the Supreme Court will have to address legal as well as biomedical questions such as who is entitled to immunity and at what stage, what is drug dependence and how is it sought to be proved.
Represented by a legal team led by Anand Grover of the Lawyers Collective, IHRN will argue for a liberal interpretation of Section 64A in favour of the class of persons for whose benefit the provision is enacted. It will also assist the Court with expert affidavits and submissions on behalf of persons who use drugs.
The matter is expected to come up in mid September.
IHRN’s impleadment application can be viewed here.