The Aryan Khan drugs case has once again highlighted the inconsistencies and unreasonableness in the application of the narcotics law and the need for judicial introspection. While the case may have attracted disproportionate media attention because of the involvement of the son of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, there are larger issues that need to be addressed to make the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) more humane and reasonable. The unsavoury episode has exposed how the unbridled powers vested with the probe agencies could be potentially misused to arrest and jail anybody on the flimsiest of charges. The fact that over 20,000 poor undertrials have been languishing in prisons, some of them for years, on NDPS charges shows that reforms are overdue. To begin with, the law must treat those caught with small quantities of drugs as victims rather than culprits and they should be sent to de-addiction facilities rather than to prisons. A proposal to this effect, made by the Union Social Justice Ministry, could be the starting point to usher in a new system with a human touch. The government must favourably consider the ministry’s recommendation of a mandatory 30-day stay for drug users at a rehabilitation facility followed by one year of community service. These are humane and smart ways to tackle the problem. After almost 26 days, Aryan Khan finally got bail in a case where no drugs were recovered from him, and where he was not even charged with consumption.
The whole argument was that the intent to deal and consume through “conscious possession” of drugs could be attributed to him because the people around him had banned substances in their possession and that this was to be treated as cumulative intent. Such interpretations are problematic and will certainly not help in tackling the drug menace in society. Cannabis, outlawed by the NDPS Act in 1985, despite its long presence in Indian culture, must be decriminalised. The act needs to be amended to focus more on tackling the real problem of trafficking hard drugs. At present, much of the institutional energy is expended in prosecuting drug users caught with small quantities for personal consumption. The huge pendency of cases in criminal courts aggravates the situation. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) often gets embroiled in small drug consumption cases and routinely opposes bails. A system that gives sweeping powers to the policing agencies under the cover of operational secrecy, with no accountability and no watchdog mechanism, is bound to create a fertile ground for corruption and extortion. The functioning of the NCB has come under a cloud over the Aryan case with its Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede facing a slew of allegations, including extortion and deliberate harassment.