Madhya Pradesh High Court | In a case dealing with illegal cultivation of opium poppy, Anand Pathak, J., held that Ss. 46 and 47 of NDPS Act casts legally bound duty on every Panch, Sarpanch, other village officer of any description and landholder to immediately furnish information of illegal cultivation as soon as it comes within their knowledge and not to neglect the same, whether knowingly or unknowingly or intentional or accidental, to forward to the Authority concerned.
In the instant matter, a complaint was lodged by the respondent after the Narcotics Bureau received information from their informer regarding illegal conveyance and cultivation of the opium poppy in the village Kulainth. During the raid conducted by a special team constituted by the Central Bureau of Narcotics (CBN) illegally cultivated opium poppy were found under the garb of other crops. The team prepared two samples of the plants of opium poppy for analysis and destroyed the entire illegally cultivated opium poppy under the order of the gazetted officer. The alleged accused persons namely Ranvir and Lachchhi were apprehended. During the investigation it was found that the alleged piece of land on which the opium was cultivated was of Munni Devi and the said land was given on 1 year lease to the petitioner, Gopal Krishan Gautam. The petitioner was implicated based on other incriminating materials as well as confessional statement of the petitioner rendered under S. 67 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act). T A complaint was filed by CBN before the competent Court for taking cognizance against the petitioner and other co-accused persons. The Special Judge (NDPS), Datia, vide order dated 14-07-2021 framed charges under Ss. 8(b), 18(c) and 29 NDPS Act. The petitioner filed a revision petition for quashment of the impugned order passed by the Special Judge (NDPS), Datia thereby framing charges under NDPS Act.
The moot point in the instant matter is that whether the holding of land taken by the petitioner for using his own irrigation system for cultivation of opium poppy to such a large extent, would be falling under instigation or conspiracy or by intentional aiding by his own act or by illegal omission by not informing the concerned authority as required under Ss. 46 and 47 of NDPS Act.
While discussing S. 46 of the NDPS Act, the Court observed that any person who is having actual authority over a particular dominion despite not being the owner like tenant, contractor, power of attorney holder or any other person is attracted with the corollary duty to disclose any illegal act being committed on the said dominion under the NDPS Act. The Court stated
“…landholder is duty bound under the NDPS Act to disclose any illegal activity or cultivation prohibited by the said Act being committed on his land (being a landholder) and when he knowingly neglects (with an intent to hide or conceal the said activity, with or without receiving any benefit from such concealment) meaning thereby, intentionally concealing this fact from being disclosed to concerned authorities empowered under the Act, is liable for the punishment.”
The Court observed that S. 47 of the NDPS Act casts duty on every Panch, Sarpanch and other village officer of any description to immediately furnish information of illegal cultivation as soon as it comes within their knowledge and not to neglect the same, whether knowingly or unknowingly or intentional or accidental, to forward to the concerned authority.
The Court observed that when the landholder is made duty bound to furnish information to the authority concerned established under the NDPS Act in relation to illegal cultivation and on not fulfilling such duty would fall under instigation or conspiracy or intentional aiding, then the petitioner can also be held liable for abetment of the said crime, which may or may not have been committed.
The Court while not expressing its opinion on the merits of the case in terms of involvement of petitioner, observed that if petitioner is found to be involved in abetment of the crime, then independently also, he can be punished for the offence even if other penal provision may or may not be attracted subsequently.
The Court observed that the role of the petitioner is prima facie found to be of cultivation of opium poppy to a vast stretch of land. Moreover, the petitioner was living over the alleged land with his brother and was conducting the irrigation work on the said land. Therefore, the present case appears to be triable and cannot be interfered with at this stage.
The Court observed that “…it is the duty of enforcement agencies like CBN, NCB, regular Police Authorities and other Investigating Agencies which may be involved in investigation of such type of cases falling under the NDPS Act to investigate the role of Sarpanchs, Holder of Land and Other Local/ Revenue Authorities because without their knowledge, cultivation of opium poppy and other psychotropic substances would not be possible prima facie in the land falling under their jurisdiction.”
The Court suggested the Central Government and State Government to hold awareness and sensitization programs for Sarpanchs, other representatives of Local Self Government and Revenue Authorities to make them aware about the duty cast upon them under Ss. 46 and 47 of the NDPS Act as the omission of same will adversely affect them for legal consequences. The Court further directed the Central Government and State Government to apprise the said stakeholders about the consequences including penal liability of such omissions to prevent the illegal cultivation of opium poppy and other psychotropic substances.
Dismissing the revision petition, the Court held that the petitioner must face trial as this Court has limited jurisdiction under S. 397 read with 401 CrPC and it is upto the Trial Court to decide the case.
[Gopal Krishna Gautam v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine MP 4405, order dated 02-12-2022]
*Judgment by Justice Anand Pathak
Advocates who appeared in this case:
Mr. Vijay Dutt Sharma, Counsel for the Petitioner
Mr. Praveen Kumar Newaskar (Deputy Solicitor General of India), Counsel for the Respondent/State
*Ritu Singh, Editorial Assistant has put this report together