In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court Thursday held that officers appointed by Central and State agencies and are invested with powers under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act are “police officers” within the meaning of section 25 of the Evidence Act, as a result of which any confessional statement made to them cannot be taken into account in order to convict an accused under the NDPS Act.
Section 25 of the Evidence Act makes the confession before a police officer inadmissible in evidence.
Writing the majority judgment for him and Justice Navin Sinha, Justice Rohinton F Nariman said the interpretation of a statute like the NDPS Act must be in conformity and broadly in tune with the spirit of the fundamental right not to incriminate oneself, and the right to privacy.
“To arrive at the conclusion that a confessional statement made before an officer designated under section 42 or section 53 can be the basis to convict a person under the NDPS Act, without any non-obstante clause doing away with section 25 of the Evidence Act, and without any safeguards, would be a direct infringement of the constitutional guarantees contained in Articles 14, 20(3) and 21 of the Constitution of India”, the bench said.
The Court was ruling on a reference made to it by a division bench on the issue viz. whether the statement recorded by an investigating officer under Section 67 of the Act can be treated as a confessional statement or not, even if the officer is not treated as a police officer and whether the officers appointed by the Central and State agencies under the Act are police officers.
Section 67 of the NDPS Act empowers officers appointed by the Centre or state governments to-
(a) call for information from any person for the purpose of satisfying himself whether there has been any contravention of the provisions of this Act or any rule or order made thereunder;
(b) require any person to produce or deliver any document or thing useful or relevant to the enquiry;
(c) examine any person acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the case.
Justice Indira Banerjee dissented with the majority decision and wrote her own separate minority opinion.
Senior Advocates Anand Grover, Sushil Kumar Jain and S. Nagamuthu and Advocate Uday Gupta appeared for each of the accused persons who were convicted on the basis of confessional statements made to officers under the NDPS Act. Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aman Lekhi appeared for the Union of India.