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Bail or Jail; High Court of Tripura Grapples With Drug Menace

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Chief Justice of Tripura High Court Sanjay Karol

Tripura –Tripura, a small 10,039 sq km state, is encircled on three sides by Bangladesh and is three hours by train from its capital Dhaka and main port city Chittagong. An increase in drug/substance abuse has been noted in this small state. It is seen that hard drugs are being smuggled into the state from Bangladesh and Burma. Indian made cough syrup is peddled in Bangladesh while the Burmese Ya ba tablets come to Tripura.

Ya ba is an amphetamine, and the tablets are mostly manufactured in Myanmar. Ya ba tablets typically are consumed orally. Users also heat tablets and inhale the vapours (also called ‘chasing the dragon’). These hard drugs are lethal and addictive. Drug mafia/dealers are equipped with hard drugs, other contraband and are connected to their counterparts in the neighboring countries.

Recently the High Court of Tripura in “Haricharan Versus State of Tripura”, while grappling with this serious problem of drug abuse in the State, passed an important order in a case allegedly involving drug mafia, dealing in huge commercial quantities of contraband. The Court took a serious view of the failure of ‘the investigating agencies’ and also of the ‘lower judiciary’ of the State for disregarding the settled law w.r.t bails. The order gives elaborate interpretation and explanation of the sections of the criminal procedure code and of the NDPS Act 1985.  The order further explains the concept of default bail and when the default bail principles, can and cannot, be invoked.

Facts

On 29th September 2018, based on a piece of secret information, police conducted search and seizure operations and from the dwelling house of accused recovered commercial quantities i.e 289 Kgs. of dry ganja, concealed in different drums.

Further investigation revealed that arrested persons were carrying on the illegal activity of the commercial sale of the contraband substance in an organized manner and operations had been going on for over a considerable period of time.

Under instructions from the DGP, a statement with regard to the status of the cases under the provision of the NDPS Act and release of the accused persons (of 2018) was called for and furnished to the Hon’ble Court.

The police told the Hon’ble Court in a statement that a total of 433 cases were registered in 2018 and cases were pending beyond 90 days in 278 of them. A total of 65,364 kilograms of cannabis, 3096 grams of heroin and 1, 88, 099 bottles of cough syrup were seized, the police added.

After going through this report, Hon’ble J. Karol speaking for the court, was shocked and expressed his concern:

“A shocking state of affairs with regard to the manner in which investigation is being carried out by the agencies. Also, it reveals that out of 660 persons arrested in connection with the crime relating to psychotropic substance, 435 persons stand enlarged on bail.

“What are the reasons for grant of bail; is it what is commonly termed as a default bail; is it that the Public Prosecutor conceded to the grant of bail; is it that the Public Prosecutors did not oppose the same; is it that the Courts have passed the orders without following the settled principles of law; or is it that innocent stand falsely implicated. If so, then why no action, in accordance with the law, stands taken against the erring persons by the authorities.”

The Court noted that prevalent situation, was extremely alarming, with regard to production, trafficking and use of contraband substance within the State of Tripura. The Court lamented that even after the alarming state of affairs, day in and day out the question of grant of bail under the provisions of the Act was arising for consideration and that too, despite the law being fully settled.

The lower Courts in the state while dealing with the bail applications were passing orders dehors to the settled principles of law. Specifically, Section 37 of the Act, which imposes a restriction on the right of the accused to seek bail was not being correctly interpreted and applied.

The Court also observed that,

“What is shocking is that in none of the orders, be it a grant of ad-interim bail or extension thereof, did the Court ever consider the factors relevant for grant of bail as envisaged under the Act. It does not even refer to the provisions of Section 37 of the Act, much less record its satisfaction with regard thereto. In fact, even the basic ingredients for deciding the application of bail, any which way, were referred to or discussed. In a most cryptic and unseasoned manner, orders rejecting/granting bail stands passed or extended from time to time.”

Can an illness of a mother or a child in a case of this nature, alone, be a ground for grant of bail? Certainly not.

Hon’ble J. Karol went on painstakingly to elaborate on different principles of law that got attracted in the case, for example, the Court stated:

“Liberty is a greatly cherished value in the life of an individual, however, it is a controlled and restricted one and no element in the society can act in a manner by consequence of which the life or liberty of others is jeopardized, for the rational collective does not countenance an anti-social or anti-collective act.”

It is also to be kept in mind that individual liberty cannot be accentuated to such an extent or elevated to such a high pedestal which would bring in anarchy or disorder in the society. The prospect of greater justice requires that law and order should prevail in a civilized milieu. Liberty is to be secured through process of law, which is administered keeping in mind the interests of the accused, the near and dear of the victim who feel helpless and believe that there is no justice in the world as also the collective interest of the community so that parties do not lose faith in the institution and indulge in private retribution.

The Hon’ble Justice further held:

“The amplitude of the power of the Constitutional Court be it under the Constitution or the statute (Cr.P.C) is wide enough to correct any illegality, either on the asking of the State or on its own motion. Even the Court cannot be unmindful of the fact that such power is being exercised in a case where allegedly the accused is involved in dealing with a huge quantity of contraband substance. Under all circumstances, the Court has to strike a balance vis-a-vis the liberty of an individual and the societal rights.”

The Court also gave a difference between default bail and the provisions under Sec. 37. of the Act. In Special cases, covered by section 37 which deals with instances of huge commercial quantities or bringing drugs in the country from foreign jurisdictions, etc, the principle is:

“Negation of bail is rule and its grant an exception”.

It is settled law, as laid down by the Apex court, that when bail has to be granted in cases where the offense have happened under section 37 of the NDPS Act 1985 then the Court must, on the basis of the record produced before it, be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that;

  1. The accused is not guilty of the offenses with which he is charged and
  2. That he is not likely to commit any offense while on bail.

At the time of considering an application for bail, the Court must take into account certain factors such as

  • The existence of a prima facie case against the accused,
  • The gravity of the allegations, position, and status of the accused,
  • The likelihood of the accused fleeing from justice and repeating the offense.
  • The possibility of tampering with the witnesses and obstructing the Courts
  • The criminal antecedents of the accused.

After going through various Apex court decisions with respect to the law regarding Bails, Menace of Drugs, Non-Compliance of Mandatory Provisions of The Act, , Principles of Liberty and also after noting the failures of the investigating agencies and of the Courts below, which had granted bail to the accused on the ground that “his mother was ailing and that he has a young daughter”, the Court ultimately found that the orders of granting ad-interim bail did not fulfil “the twin test” laid down by the Supreme Court (Supra) nor was it in accordance with the law and  hence deserved to be quashed.

However, the Court also noted that this does not mean that in every case registered under the NDPS Act, the learned Public Prosecutor must necessarily oppose the bail. The above-mentioned case was a special case of a ‘drug mafia’, dealing in huge commercial quantities of contraband, certainly, they can’t be equated with the small-time offenders. It goes without saying that when Section 37 is not attracted then provisions of criminal Procedure Court will apply, here the principle that prevails is:

“Bail is a rule and jail an exception”.

 

The Order of the Hon’ble Tripura High Court is very detailed and is a ready reckoner for anyone who wants to understand the law regarding Bails.

(The post was first published in https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/ )

Deven Khanna is a Lawyer, practicing at High Court of Himachal Pradesh, other H.P Courts/Tribunals and the Supreme Court of India, he is an alumnus of a National Law School. For any queries related to the articles, he can be contacted at 7018469792 or at [email protected] The personal blog is at https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/

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Amid Surge in COVID-19 Cases in Himachal, Speculation of Complete Lockdown Gains Momentum

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Himachal Pradesh Lockdown from August 1st speculations

Shimla-The number of COVID-19 cases is rising at an alarming rate in Himachal Pradesh as for the past five consecutive days, the state had been reporting nearly 100 cases per day. With Monday’s 95 new cases, the tally  for the state jumped to 2270. The number of active cases has crossed the 1000 mark to reach 1025 on Monday. So far, 1216 patients have recovered while 12 of them succumbed to COVID-19 infection.

Among Monday’s cases, Sirmaur district reported the highest 31 cases from Govindgarh (mohalla) locality in Nahan. Complete lockdown of two days was imposed in this area but the spurt in cases continues. Fifteen new cases were reported from Baddi and Parwanoo in Solan district while remaining cases were reported from Bilaspur (11), Mandi (10), Kangra (16), Shimla (5), Una (2), Hamirpur (1), and Chamba (3).

In Shimla, five family members of a policeman, who had tested positive a couple of days ago, also tested positive.

HP Health Department’s COVID-19 Bulletin July 27, 2020 (9PM)

himachal pradesh demand of lockdown amid surge in covid-19

Some leaders of the ruling party (BJP) continue to invite criticism for behaving irresponsibly. The government itself is not learning any lesson from the situation in Govindgarh- a hot spot where the outbreak was triggered due to a marriage ceremony.

On Monday, the opposition Congress filed a police complaint against three persons including a BJP leader for violating rules by roaming around and meeting a large number of people instead of placing themselves under home-quarantine. The opposition said that samples of these persons were taken after they showed symptoms of the COVID-19 infection. Still, these persons kept roaming around after giving samples. The opposition has also alleged a discrimination was seen in initiating legal action for violations of social distancing norms. In Spiti, hundreds of tribal women were booked for staging protest against Minister Ram Lal Markanda for not adhering to the resolution passed by the locals regarding mandatory quarantine for all including the residents of the district. Cases have been filed against the opposition Congress too for violating these norms during recent protests. 

Earlier, a leader from Mandi had introduced the coronavirus in Chief Minister’s office and the State secretariat and infected about two dozen of his contacts including the Advocate General and his family. The leader reportedly visited the IGMC, Shimla, State High Court and other offices.

Now, another ex-MLA from Nadaun and the Vice-Chairman, HRTC, was reported to have met several party workers and even attending an event as the chief guest. Vijay Agnihotri reportedly continued shopping, roaming around, and meeting people after giving a sample. Reportedly, he also attended a marriage ceremony. The district administration would now have a task to trace all his contacts.

At the sametime, the Congress was also seen disregarding the social distancing norms during their recent protests against the hike in bus fare.

Laxity in Organization of and Checking Gathering in Govt Events

While the state government has issued guidelines for attending funerals and marriages, there is hardly any seriousness when it comes to organizing government or the party events. The ‘havan’ organized in Shimla where hundreds of people had gathered and several party leaders including Chief Minister Jairam Thakur had visited it. The event had invited criticism as the Chief Minister and workers of BJP Mahila Morcha were seen disregarding every social distancing norm. 

An employee of HP University also tested positive recently. A few days prior to the confirmation of this case, an event was organized at the varsity on the occasion of the Foundation Day a large number of people including media persons were present.  

Amid such a sharp increase in cases, instead of being so lax, the government is supposed to prohibit any such gathering or at least issue guidelines regarding the maximum number of persons allowed to attend such events/functions.

Solan district where the total COVID-19 cases have reached 553 has begun to witness a shortage of health staff.  The BBN area is the worst hit and has reported about 80 percent of the total cases in Solan. According to a media report, there are only 10 doctors at the CHC at Nalagarh and six at the Civil hospital, Baddi. There are only 28 nurses.

Amid this panic, the public, especially from Shimla district has been suggesting the imposition of a lockdown and questioning the government over still keeping the border open for tourists. To make thing even worse, there are instances where people violated quarantine rules after their samples were taken or were not monitored properly. In Mandi district’s Bagsaid market, a person had opened his meat shop giving a sample. It was after the arrival of his report that the shop was closed. 

Further, the online opinion poll of the State Government inviting public opinion over the imposition of a complete lockdown in the state has led to speculations of a possible lockdown from August 1st.  The matter regarding a lockdown is expected to be taken up in the Cabinet meeting to be held on July 30. The public is confused and preparing to stock up ration/essentials or planning to leave for villages. Several readers have also been writing to Himachal Watcher to inquire about the possibility of imposition of a complete lockdown.  

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First Open for Tourism, Then Train Staff, HP Govt Goes Topsy Turvy

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Himachal pradesh CM jairam thakur on hotel staff training

Shimla- In the last week, the Himachal state government has taken decisions that could have a long-lasting impact on citizens without consulting or even informing all stakeholders.

First, it came out with guidelines for tourism that did not have any inputs from the tourism industry. Second, it decided to open the state for tourism without consulting hotel and travel industry or keeping village pradhans in the loop.Six days after the decision to allow tourist activity and opening State borders for tourists, the state government of HP has decided to train people employed with the industry.

“Online training for the Hospitality sector would also be held in wake of COVID-19. About 10,000 candidates would be provided one-day training on hygiene and sanitation procedures. Three weeks training on basic essential of a tourist guide communication skill etc. would be provided to about four hundred candidates,”

said Chief Minister Jairam Thakur in a review meeting with Tourism Industry officials on 8th July. It’s surprising that the Government did not find the time to either have this ‘1 day training’ program ready or train the staff of hotels and restaurants before throwing open state borders for tourists. The government gave no time to the hotel industry to understand, prepare and implement directions given in the issued SOPs.

Major Hotel Associations have already decided to keep hotels closed at least till September and  Village Pradhans have also refused to allow tourists into their jurisdiction. The Chief Minister said that the State Government is following the lead of states such as Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Goa, Kerala etc. where the Governments have decided to open the State for tourists.

To enter Himachal Pradesh, tourists have to meet three conditions, a valid booking for at least five days, a COVID-19 test report from an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) certified laboratory not older than 72 hours and their vehicle should have a sanitisation certificate.

About 600 tourists have already entered Kangra district. Police arrested a couple in Kangra district who managed to enter the State by furnishing a fake COVID-19 negative report.

“A case was registered at Damtal police station against a couple who entered HP from Bhadroya barrier based on fake COVID Negative test report. Legal action is being initiated against them for cheating, fraud & forgery. They are currently lodged in an institutional quarantine facility at Parour,”

SP, Kangra, Vimukt Ranjan, said confirming the report. In another case in Kullu, five tourists, who managed to enter the State and reach Bajaura barrier in Kullu, were detained for not carrying required documents. A total of 12 tourists have been allowed in to Kullu district after they met the three conditions needed for tourists.

According to Kullu district police, about 70 tourists from Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh etc. were sent back for not fulfilling conditions prescribed by the State Government. Tourists who should be sent back for a lack of required documents and fulfilling conditions given in the SOPs issued by the State Government are able to cross barriers at borders, like Parwanoo and Swarghat.

Police manning barricades are also frontline staff who are at risk.

We have provided police who are manning the barricades with N95 masks, raincoats that will serve a double purpose for rain and COVID protection and long gloves, policemen over the age of 50 years and those with existing conditions are not deployed at barricades,

said DSP, Kullu, Priyank Gupta.

While the majority of the hospitality industry players, (which is worst hit by the loss of business), is against opening the State for tourism, there are some, especially those who have leased hotels and taken loans who want to open for tourism. However, until the state government takes steps to add healthcare facilities and make more dedicated COVID hospital wards especially in rural areas, large scale tourism could endanger locals.

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Govt Legitimizing and Legalizing Environmental Violations for Business by Amending EIA Rules: Activists  

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Himachal pradesh EIA Notification 2020 Amendments news

Shimla-While in statements, the politicians in power at the Centre and State Governments have been expressing concerns over environmental issues and ensuring the people that they are committed to protect and preserve the environment, the reality is contrary to it. The most recent evidence is the proposed 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification. With these amendments, the process of environmental assessment before granting permission to execute commercial projects, like hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, would be reduced to merely a formality.

Environmental activists and people’s organisations from across Himachal have written to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to scrap the 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification proposed by it.

These activists and environmental protection groups are of the opinion that the EIA Notification, first issued in 1994 under the Environment Protection Act 1986, is a critical mechanism that regulates clearances granted to all kinds of development projects and economic activities in the country. It is one of the environmental decision-making processes that makes it mandatory for project developers to not just study the socio-economic, ecological and other impacts of a proposed project but also place them in front of the affected communities for their opinions and objections, thus, ensuring the process of a free, fair and informed consent. However, this notification has been amended and read down several times in the last two decades, in favour of ‘easing the norms’ for business. The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality. 

The submission made by HP groups states,

“In the context of the already vulnerable and sensitive Himalayan region, flouting of various provisions of even the present EIA notification has heavily impacted the local ecology and livelihoods of the people. The new amendments will only legitimize and legalize these violations and this will mean irreparable damage to the Himalayan ecosystem”. 

The key objections raised are around exemptions of a variety of projects from the mandatory  Public Consultation’ process as well as the dismantling of this process itself.

“The reduction of the time prior to public hearing from 30 to 20 days is also highly objectionable. In the given 30 day period itself, the information about Public hearings does not reach all the affected areas which are often spread out widely in case of mountains with some project-affected communities residing in remote and inaccessible terrains. Here accessing information takes a long time and reducing this time to 20 days will completely exclude such people from raising their grievances and suggestions in the public consultation. This is a clear attempt to block their participation in the environmental decision-making process”

said R.S Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur. 

 

“It is shocking that the amendments include allowing post-facto clearance, which means that the project proponent can start work and before they have obtained environmental clearance. If the basic precautionary principle on which the EIA notifications is grounded is itself not followed it can lead to a disastrous situation for the ecology and local people. In this situation who is going to be responsible for the losses? If the project proponent is not in a position to pay for losses, will the MoEF&CC take the responsibility of losses? This provision will encourage project developers to bypass the process of environmental decision making. We absolutely oppose this amendment”,

said Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective.  

The 2020 draft also dilutes the guidelines for monitoring and compliance of Environment conditions.

“Already the system of monitoring is weak, the conditions lose, the pollution control board and companies non-accountable, thus, leading to widespread destruction of local ecology and impacting health, lives, and livelihoods of project-affected communities. In the case of hydropower projects, for instance, the illegal and unmonitored dumping of muck along river beds, in forests and on common lands, has damaged pastures, disrupted the flow of the rivers, and caused massive disasters when floods occur. The proposed changes will give a free reign to those profiting from extractive and polluting projects,” 

according to Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Himalaya Bachao Samiti. 

It is ironic that on one hand, the global COVID crisis has thrown up several studies showing that pandemics like COVID emerge from ecological degradation and forest loss, and on the government is pushing for policy changes which will accentuate the environmental crisis that the country is already reeling under.  

“If the MoEF&CC wants to change the environmental laws, it should carry out countrywide regional consultations”,

added Uma Mahajan of Himachal Van Adhikar Manch.

The country, especially ecologically diverse yet climate-vulnerable regions like the Himalayas need a robust and strong environmental regulatory and governance regime that makes project proponents accountable and keeps the affected communities and ecological concerns at the centre of the EIA and environmental decision-making process. 

Notably, MoEF&CC had called for citizen’s comments before May 11 but this deadline was extended upto  June 30 and now August 11 as environmentalists and concerned groups expressed outrage that calling for public inputs on this critical law amidst the COVID led lockdown was unjustified. The MoEF&CC has in this period received thousands of objections highlighting the new draft as anti-people and environment.

The demand is to scrap these proposed amendments for the sake of the environment. 

Submission Made to Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change by Activists and Organizations

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