A private vehicle does not come within the ambit of a “public place” as per the explanation given under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, the Supreme Court has said.
A Bench comprising justices U U Lalit and K M Joseph made the observation while deciding an appeal challenging an order passed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court affirming their conviction and sentence under the NDPS Act.
In this case, recovery was effected from the accused while they were sitting on road in a jeep at a public place. While upholding the conviction of the accused, the High Court held that the case of accused would be covered by Section 43 of NDPS Act and not by Section 42. Section 42 deals with Power of entry, search, seizure and arrest without warrant or authorisation while Section 43 with power of seizure and arrest in public place.
The trial court, after considering the evidence on record, acquitted accused Major Singh but convicted accused Boota Singh, Gurdeep Singh and Gurmohinder Singh, under the NDPS Act and sentenced them to rigorous imprisonment for 10 years.
They were also asked to pay a fine of 1 lakh, failing which they were directed to undergo further rigorous imprisonment for two years.
The Supreme Court held that the evidence in the present case clearly shows that the vehicle was not a public conveyance but a private one belonging to Gurdeep Singh, and acquitted the accused as they were charged under the wrong section.
Before the Apex Court, the accused contended that the vehicle in question was a private vehicle belonging to accused and was not a public conveyance, though parked on a public road and therefore the case would not be come under Section 43 but would be governed by the provisions of Section 42 NDPS Act. Since Section 42 having not been complied with at all, they were entitled to acquittal, they contended.
The Explanation to Section 43 stated : For the purposes of this section, the expression "public place" includes any public conveyance, hotel, shop, or other place intended for use by, or accessible to, the public.
The Supreme Court held that since the explanation only referred to "public conveyance" and not to private vehicle, the jeep involved in the case was not a "public place" coming under Section 43. Hence, the officers had to follow the procedure under Section 42 NPDS with respect to the recovery. The same having not been followed, the accused were acquitted.
"The evidence in the present case clearly shows that the vehicle was not a public conveyance but was a vehicle belonging to accused Gurdeep Singh. The The Registration Certificate of the vehicle, which has been placed on record also does not indicate it to be a Public Transport Vehicle. The explanation to Section 43 shows that a private vehicle would not come within the expression "public place" as explained in Section 43 of the NDPS Act", a bench comprising Justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph held. Here, the conclusion of the Court turned on the specific entry in the statutory provision.