By Arresting Rhea Chakraborty, Is NCB Working Outside Its Mandate?
In light of the sudden burst of attention on NCB and the role they play, here’s a look at the agency and its cases.
Earlier this week, late Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s partner Rhea Chakraborty was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in a drugs case related to his death. The 34-year-old actor was arrested under Sections 27A, 21, 22, 29 and 28 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.
The arrest came days after the NCB filed a criminal case against Chakraborty and three of her acquaintances – including her brother Showik Chakraborty – under Sections of the NDPS Act, claiming proof about consumption of banned substances.
As her arrest by the NCB occupies space in media debates, here’s a lowdown of the agency’s role and track record and a look at whether it is stepping outside its mandate with the arrest of Chakraborty.
The Mandate of the NCB
As the agency that sets and enforces drug policy, the NCB’s role is to prevent narcotics from being imported from other countries, to stop the usage of India as a transit point for narcotics bound for a third country, as well as to stop the export of indigenous narcotics and prescription drugs, often diverted to the illicit market.
Since India is a signatory in various international drug-related UN conventions, it is the NCB’s responsibility to implement the provisions of these international conventions.
The mandate of the NCB is to chase after big and small drug cases on an international and inter-state level. Usually, they are focussed on busting drug rackets involving drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
Their track record shows that they go after the big cases, and leave smaller cases involving small quantities of marijuana to the local police.
“The past practice and precedence tells us they are supposed to monitor and break big supply chains – international and inter-state. That’s what they have done mostly. They were originally doing awareness camps. And later, they started functioning as an enforcement agency. Chasing ganja pudia (small quantities of marijuana) is not their mandate,” a former top NCB official, who did not wish to be named, told The Quint.
The NCB does not usually get involved in individual cases of use of drugs, as it seems to be doing in the Chakraborty case.
Then why is the NCB probing a case reportedly involving purchase of 59 gm of marijuana?
On 5 September, NCB Deputy Director-General Mutha Ashok Jain admitted that this was normally “not part of their mandate.”
“Normally, we look into international and inter-state connections. We look for the big fish. Normally, this is not part of our mandate. Now, we are getting information, we will not shrug our responsibility,” he said, addressing the media.
India’s Infamous Supply Chains
India is located between two of the largest sources of illicit drugs in South Asia – the Golden Crescent (Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran) and the Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos). These infamous supply chains for trafficking of drugs, existing in the near whereabouts of India, require the attention of the NCB.
“Manipur is one of the important entry points, while an illicit poppy trade smuggled from cultivating areas like Malwa, Gwalior, Rajasthan, Ghazipur is a constant worry,” the former top NCB official told The Quint.
What’s worse is that the NCB suffers from limited capacity. The agency has staffing issues to deal with – and focussing on small cases may be stretching its limited manpower.
A report from October 2017 by DNA detailed the NCB’s woes, saying that the agency at the time had a team of between 20 and 25 people each in about 25 states, and that they did not even possess offices in some states, creating operational hurdles for them.
“There are possibly 1,500 nationwide. In Mumbai, they￼ had only 30-odd people two years ago. It was carved out of Customs,” said the former top NCB official.
Origin of the NCB
The agency was created in March 1986 under the terms of Section 4 (3) of the NDPS Act, 1985, which is the statutory framework for drug law enforcement in India.
The NCB is subject to the supervision and control of the Centre, as the responsibility of drug abuse control is a central function. The agency’s zones and sub-zones, located in various cities across the country, collect and analyse data, disseminate intelligence and work in close tandem with the Customs, State Police and other law enforcement agencies.
The NCB is currently headed by Director General Rakesh Asthana, formerly of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the parent of the NCB is the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Rackets, Trafficking: NCB’s Track Record
- Apart from the Chakraborty case, the NCB is probing the large-scale drug-peddling racket in Bengaluru involving some well-known figures from the Kannada film industry.
- As recently as 6 September, the NCB busted an international heroin smuggling module in Delhi, a report by NDTV said.
- In February 2020, the NCB arrested India’s first ‘darknet’ narcotics operative, who allegedly shipped psychotropic drug parcels abroad in the garb of sex stimulation medicines, reported The Hindu.
- In December 2019, according to a report by Hindustan Times, the NCB busted an international drug racket spread across at least seven countries, seizing 20 kg cocaine and arresting nine. The racket reportedly used India as a destination and transit for their consignments and the drug syndicate operated in India, Colombia, the US, Australia, Canada, Malaysia, and Nigeria.
- According to a report by The News Minute, in May 2019, the NCB carried out a major drug bust in Bengaluru, in which more than 50 kg of ketamine, which is also used as a ‘date rape’ drug, was seized following the arrest of two men. The arrested duo were part of a drug trafficking network based in Chennai, linked to Southeast Asian countries and Australia.
Abuse of the NDPS?
Interestingly, based on the findings of an independent think tank, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, while the number of arrests for drug trafficking has remained more or less constant, those for personal consumption have increased significantly.
The latter also outnumbers the former significantly, according to a report by Financial Express, quoting the findings of the think tank.
Vidhi Legal found that Maharashtra used to have an average of 1,766 cases under the NDPS every year till 2013, but, this number shot up to 14,622 in 2014. In 2018, the number of cases in Maharashtra was 12,195, out of which 10,006 were in Mumbai.
Further, 9,743 pertained to personal consumption, while just 263 related to trafficking. A similar pattern was seen in 2017, with 12,946 cases of personal consumption and 298 of trafficking.
Vidhi Legal also found that despite the number of cases, very few seizures were made. Moreover, of the seizures worth Rs 60.6 crore in 2016, only around a tenth was cannabis, but 87 percent of NDPS arrests in Mumbai were related to cannabis.
“Cannabis may be a shall share of drug busts, but most Mumbai arrests are for it. So Bollywood biggies using hard stuff get away. It’s usually the small guys who get caught,” an expert who wished to remain unnamed told The Quint.
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