In the present case of Raveen Kumar v/s State of Himachal Pradesh, the appellant, Raveen Kumar, appeals the judgment of 23.04.2010 and the order of 18.05.2010 of the Division Bench of the High Court of Himachal Pradesh, in which his acquirement under Section 20 of the Alcohol, Medicines and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 ('NDPS Act') was overturned and the two-year term of rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs.50,000 was imposed.
The Court recorded its findings when denying an appeal by a man convicted of carrying contraband who has been sentenced to two years imprisonment under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS). The High Court affirmed the Himachal Pradesh High Court decision, stating that the appellant-accused had not challenged the appropriate independent witness with the facts requested by the accused.
The Constitutional Bench also mentioned that, in such cases, the Courts had to take extreme caution when evaluating the statements of the police officers. If proven to be trustworthy, they can form the foundation of a successful judgment, the bench concluded.
Observed by the Constitutional Bench of Justices NV Ramana, Surya Kant, and Hrishikesh Roy,
"... the Court should be over-cautious to rely on a piece of testimony that the witness involved has not been faced with considering the potential to do so."
In the present case, the accused argued that he was wrongly blamed for not contributing funds to the Police Sports event. The car of the accused had been confiscated from where the police had retrieved the contraband. The court cleared the accused of arguing that no independent evidence had backed the prosecution's case. The High Court, however, set aside the decision of the court, while still relying on the evidence of an impartial witness, who backed the prosecution's case but was dismissed by the court.
Although the Trial Court convicted the guilty, it held that no independent witness backed the prosecution case and that the evidence of the star police witnesses was inconsistent. In this scenario, one independent witness has now turned hostile. Although reversing the acquirement, the High Court acknowledged that the inconsistencies were irrelevant and that the witness appeared hostile; the evidence-backed the prosecution argument. The bench noted, in agreement with the conclusions of the High Court.
"It would be advantageous if the absence of independent evidence were not fatal to the defense. However, such omissions represent an additional obligation for the Courts to take more caution when investigating the evidence of the police officers, which, if proven to be credible, can form the foundation of a good prosecution."
The accused further argued that the contents of the reply filed by the prosecutor on his petition of bail had indicated that there was little hope of recovery in the event. In that regard, the Court acknowledged that there was a difference between the 'replies' sent to the Court in some of the cases pending and those reported by the police pursuant to Section 161 of the CrPC. It says:
However, the Court should be over-cautious to focus on a piece of evidence that the witness involved has not been faced with considering the ability to do so. While it is not appropriate to prove independently the court papers emerging during the proceedings, no moral inference can be applied to the validity of the contents of those documents. At least, the reply submitted in court proceedings can be viewed as an admission which, as held by this Court in Sita Ram Bhau Patil v. Ramchandra Nago Patil, [i]should not only be proven but must also be confronted by the opposite party at the cross-examination stage.
While it did not intervene with the punishment levied, the Court recalled a recent decision in Hira Singh v. Union of India[ii], which held that the overall quantity of the combination, including the neutral substance, should be significant for sentencing purposes. 'This total quantity in the instant case is 1 kg 230 gms, which exceeds the concept of 'commercial quantity' as set out in Sl. No. 23 of the Notice S.O. (E) 1055, dated 19.10.2001. Thus, the sentence handed out by the High Court is obviously now far too charitable, "the Court stated.
The Apex Court clarified that the absence of credible evidence in NDPS trials is not fatal to prosecution cases.
The court stated-" For the reasons pointed out above, the appeals are rejected this is the bail bonds of the appellant shall be cancelled and the respondent — State shall recommend that the appellant be taken into detention to serve the balance of his term of two years."
[i] Sita Ram Bhau Patil v. Ramchandra Nago Patil, (1977) 2 SCC 49.
[ii] Hira Singh v. Union of India , 2020 SCC OnLine SC 382, ¶ 10(II).