Drugs probe stuck in legal logjam before Punjab and Haryana High Court

Three years on, the probe reports of different investigative agencies that contain details on the nexus between politicians and the drug mafia are lying in sealed cover before the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Just when the High Court was about to take a call to make these reports public, one of the judges recused himself from hearing the matter last week, delaying the matter further, writes VIVEK GUPTA


CHANDIGARH: FOUR deaths allegedly due to drug overdose in the last two weeks in Bathinda, read a news article on August 26 in Hindustan Times.

Five drug abuse related deaths, including that of a class XII year student in Muktsar, read another news in The Tribune four days later on August 30.

A 2017 study by the Department of Community Medicine, Punjab Institute of Medical Sciences claimed that one in three individuals in the state of Punjab are hooked to drugs.

Punjab is rife with deaths due to drug addiction. Those dying are sometimes as young as thirteen or fourteen years of age.

Yet, the probe reports filed by different investigative agencies of the Punjab government and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on the nexus of politicians and drug cartels havee been gathering dust in a ‘sealed cover’ at the Punjab and Haryana High Court since May 2018. 

The sealing of reports means that no one can reveal their content in the public domain unless the court decides so, or else it will lead to contempt of court.

Also read: [In-depth] ‘Addict to Convict: Working of the NDPS Act in Punjab’ – A CRITIQUE

Judge’s recusal leads to opposition’s demand for shifting to another HC

Even as the growth of the jurisprudence of the ‘sealed cover’ in Indian courts has come under criticism, the matter took a curious turn at the High Court last week when one of the judges in a division bench of the High Court recused himself from hearing an application filed by human rights lawyer Navkiran Singh to seek de-sealing all drug probe reports and expedite prosecution against the drug mafia in the state.

The Indian National Congress-ruled Punjab government has been criticized both within the party and outside for not striving even once in the last three years to get these reports de-sealed.

On the other hand, the Aam Aadmi Party, the principal opposition party in Punjab legislative assembly, raised questions over the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s functioning by demanding that Navkiran Singh’s application be shifted to some other High Court for speedy hearing.

Talking to The Leaflet, Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema later clarified, “I don’t think that the High Court is under pressure for not hearing these cases. There may be some ‘official’ reason for the judge to recuse himself. But somewhere, the conduct and integrity of the Congress-led Punjab government is in serious doubt.”

He claimed that in the last three years, the Congress government did not move even a single application to make these reports open.

“This clearly shows that the government wants to save perpetrators of the drug trade in Punjab, and weaken the evidence against them by delaying the matter,” said Cheema.

“Even now, instead of the government, a private advocate filed the application to open the sealed reports,” he added.

Also read: Lawyers Collective urges Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh to withdraw proposal of death penalty for drug peddling

Multi-crore trade

Advocate Navkiran Singh, who is now awaiting fresh hearing of his application (regarding opening of the sealed probe reports) after the judge’s recusal, told The Leaflet that the drug mafia in Punjab is deeply entrenched, and that there is a strong nexus between politicians, policemen and drug dealers because the earnings from the illicit trade is in the crores.

“Being a party to the case, I can’t express my opinion (as who is responsible for keeping the reports sealed in the High Court), but opening these probe reports is very important for the speedy trial of people and politicians involved in the drug trade in Punjab,” he said.

He noted, “The present situation is unfortunate. I am hoping that the High Court will rise to the occasion and perform its duty as per the law.”

He informed that the matter relating to drug cases is being heard by a special division bench of the High Court. “The bench usually hears such matters on Fridays. I am hopeful that Chief Justice will constitute the fresh bench soon and restart the hearing,” he added.

Also read: Special court judge admonished for not being up-to-date on latest drug possession laws

Background of the case: multiple sealed reports 

The case on drug trafficking before the High Court began with a letter addressed to the court by former director general of police (jail), Punjab, Shashi Kant in 2013.

He claimed that drug smuggling worth over Rs 6,000 crore took place annually in Punjab, and the money went into funding elections in the state. The former DGP had also submitted that drugs were not just being smuggled from Pakistan, but were also manufactured in Punjab.

Taking suo motu cognisance of the letter, the High Court treated it as a public interest litigation, and impleaded the Punjab government, the Narcotics Control Bureau, and the ED as parties to the case.

Later in 2015, a special division bench was constituted at the direction of the Supreme Court, which since then has been hearing the matter.

During the course of hearings, various twists and turns have occurred. One that caused uproar was the confidential note by the then assistant director of the ED, Niranjan Singh, alleging the involvement of a high profile Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader with those arrested in the high profile Jagdish Bhola drug racket case.

As per facts recorded in advocate Navkiran Singh’s latest application, the High Court, through its order dated November 26, 2017, shared Niranjan Singh’s note along with annexures with a special task force (STF) headed by Additional DGP Harpreet Singh Sidhu on drug control, constituted after Congress took over the Punjab government.

A few months later in February 2018, the STF submitted a detailed report in a sealed cover on Niranjan Singh’s note. A copy of this report was then handed over to the Punjab government for its opinion.

Later, in May 2018, the Punjab government filed an opinion-cum-status report on the STF’s report that was again kept in a sealed cover.

As per Navkiran Singh, no substantial order was later passed with respect to opening of these reports pertaining to links of high profile politicians with the state’s drug mafia.

Apart from these reports, the special division bench also asked the STF to investigate the allegations of collusion between police and drug cartel in the state, for which a separate special investigation team (SIT) was constituted under the then DGP (human resource development) Siddhartha Chattopadhyaya.

The SIT submitted various reports in 2018. It is believed that these contained vital information about the alleged involvement of senior police officers in the drug trade. These reports were submitted in sealed covers and remain as such.

(Vivek Gupta is an independent journalist based in Chandigarh. The views expressed are personal.)