We as a people believe in legal solutions to socio-economic challenges. It is one of the prominent legacies of colonial rule – from the earliest decades of British law-making in the subcontinent, issues such as caste disabilities (1860), female infanticide (1870) and child marriage (1929) have been legislated upon. Despite the abundance of laws, the social ills persist. Interestingly, as does the enthusiasm for law-making.
What is missing is any form of systematic inquiry on the impact or efficacy of such laws on society at large. At a time when serious doubt has been cast on the role of law in enabling development, a systematic post-implementation review of laws is the need of the hour.
To this end, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy is undertaking a study of the effectiveness of laws through the Law Reform and Social Change Initiative (“LARSCI”). LARSCI will analyse chosen laws in a given subject area, to examine whether each specified law has been effective in furthering the goals it has set out to accomplish. Where it has not achieved its goals, appropriate reform will be recommended with a view to setting the foundation for meaningful social change. The first such law that LARSCI has undertaken to study is the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (“NDPS Act”).
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (“NDPS Act”) was enacted to fulfil India’s obligations under a series of international conventions it had signed. The NDPS Act incorporates aspects of deterrent punishment and rehabilitation within its operation. While the consumption of drugs is prima facie criminalised, the Act makes a clear distinction between individual consumers and traffickers. Whereas the latter are subject to strict penal action, the former can be diverted to rehabilitation.
In 2013, Punjab had the highest number of cases registered under the NDPS Act in India — 14654 out of 34668. However, the absence of accurate data, in terms of district-wise distribution of drug use, number of individuals apprehended and successfully prosecuted, reasons for disparity in registrations and convictions, and the availability of rehabilitation has hindered an accurate assessment of the magnitude of the problem. Relying on available data, it can prima facie be observed that despite being one of the strictest legislations in India, the law has seemingly been failing in its stated objective of eradicating the drug problem.
The Law and Social Reform Initiative will conduct a field study in Punjab to assess the appropriateness of deploying criminalisation as a mechanism for achieving social justice in the context of the drug problem. To this end, we will investigate the functioning of the NDPS Act in Punjab and look into the shortcomings of the law, both inherent and in its application. We also propose to inquire into the effectiveness of the models of justice conceived within the act – rehabilitation of addicts and deterrence through stringent punishments.
Aim and objective
We will primarily look at three prominent actors, namely the police, courts, and the institutions for rehabilitation in the three urban districts of Punjab: Amritsar, Jalandhar, and Patiala as representative of the three regions of Punjab, i.e., Majha, Malwa, and Doaba. Based on the empirical evidence obtained we propose to:
1. Scrutinise various procedures followed under the statute at different stages of investigation, trial and sentencing and examine whether there has been any abuse of the law.
2. Explore the nature and extent of prosecution of individual consumers.
3. Examine the key mechanism of rehabilitation.
A report that specifically delineates the inter-connection between penalties under the NDPS Act and the growing incidence of drug abuse in Punjab. The report will establish the reasons why the NDPS Act has failed to extinguish drug menace in Punjab in spite of the tendency to over-criminalise built into the architecture of the legislature.