Apex court puts down norms to forbid adjournments of trials under NDPS Act

Regretting the "laxity" and "callousness" with which people are put behind the bar while trials move at a snail's pace, the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that no adjournment shall be granted by any court in drug cases. It also passed a direction to set up exclusive courts in states to handle such cases.

A Bench of Justices D k Jain and J S Khehar passed a slew of directives to ensure that the rights of accused to speedy trial is not diluted due to the existing lacuna in the trials conducted under Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.

The court also called for the notification of a Code of Criminal Procedure provision prescribing stern rules against adjournments. "We direct that no NDPS court would grant adjournments at the request of a party except where the circumstances are beyond the control of the party. This must be treated as an exception... Adherence to this principle would go a long way...," it said while incorporating a suggestion by amicus curiae Anita Shenoy.

It directed courts to return to the "erstwhile" method of holding session's trials and examining witnesses on consecutive days over a "block period" of 3-4 days. The court said that those accused in NDPS cases should be given chargesheets and other documents in electronic form.

The Bench passed several directives for putting in place required infrastructure and engaging trained manpower for swift trials. "Each state, in consultation with the High Court is directed to establish Special Courts to deal with offences under the NDPS Act. The number of these courts must be proportionate to, and sufficient for, handling the volume of pending cases in the state," ordered the court.

The court ordered for a "qualitative and quantitative overhaul" of the forensic labs and asked the Centre and states to set up such laboratories with adequate staff. The apex court also called for appointment of nodal officers in the departments dealing with the NDPS cases.

The court's directions came on an appeal by one Thana Singh, who was charged with an offence under the NDPS Act, entailing a maximum jail term of 20 years. He has spent 12 years in jail but the trial was yet to start. His bail requests too were turned down, compelling him to move the apex court. The court has granted him bail.

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