The Indian drugs legislation is too harsh to work
The minimum sentence for drug dealing is imprisonment for 10 years and the government has even defended capital punishment.21 Dec 2014
There is no appetite in India for a serious conversation on drugs in India. The prime minister’s recent radio talk on the subject confirms that. Yet, drugs and laws to deal with them engage civil liberties, health and justice in a fundamental way that cannot be ignored.
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act) is one of the harshest laws in the country. The minimum sentence for drug dealing is rigorous imprisonment for 10 years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh. Contrast this with punishment for rape and human trafficking that, even after the recent enhancement, stands at seven years imprisonment. Bail is rejected at the mere mention that the case involves narcotic or psychotropic substances. The law bars suspension, remission or commutation of any sentence passed, foreclosing all relief. In prison, drug convicts are labelled a “dangerous breed” and treated more harshly than rapists and murderers.
The NDPS Act prescribes capital punishment for a repeat offence of drug trafficking, even though it does not involve violence or killing and, consequently, cannot be categorised as a “most serious crime”, for which the death penalty may be used. There is no persuasive evidence that the death penalty is a greater deterrent than other punishments in reducing drug crimes. When a second conviction for murder does not automatically qualify as a “rarest of rare” case deserving capital punishment, how could a subsequent drug crime justify a death sentence?
The government has defended capital punishment by saying that the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is aware of India’s anti-narcotics programme and has never objected to penalties under the NDPS Act.