NDPS Act amendments: Drug charges to stay given current use, trafficking

The Centre is likely to drop the plan to decriminalise personal drug consumption through proposed amendments to the NDPS Act, 1985.

ET gathers that it was indicated so to stakeholder ministries and departments at a high-level meeting during the national conference on drug trafficking last week.

Given the current menace of drug consumption and drug trafficking, a ‘decriminalisation’ approach cannot be adopted, MHA is learnt to have said at the July 30 National Conference on Drug Trafficking and National Security attended by chief ministers, representatives of several Union ministries, chief secretaries of northern states, representatives of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and officials of the Narcotics Control Bureau.

At the keynote address in Chandigarh, home minister Amit Shah also emphasised that there would be ‘zero tolerance against drugs’ to rid the country of the menace and achieve the vision of the PM of a Drug Free India by 2047.

“The message from the home ministry was quite clear. There cannot be any decriminalisation of drug consumption given its dangerous impact on youngsters and society at large. It was also discussed that some provisions of the NDPS Act may be made more stringent,” an official who attended the meeting said.

Several western nations have decriminalised drug consumption, but a similar move to liberalise the Narcotic, Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985,looks unlikely after the ministry’s stand.

The issue also sparked a public debate amid Aryan Khan’s arrest in Mumbai under the law.

Section 27 of the NDPS Act, 1985, makes drug consumption a punishable offence that can attract a fine of Rs 10,000 and imprisonment of six months or both. Bail provisions are also quite stringent.

Inter-ministerial consultation on possible amendments was initiated in 2021 and a debate was generated. The social justice ministry pitched for decriminalisation of personal consumption of drugs and treating addicts as ‘victims’ rather than culprits. The primary motive to amend the Act came after a verdict of the Tripura High Court.

The Prime Minister’s Office had earlier proposed amendments and asked for all issues on the law to be discussed before introducing the bill in Parliament.

Despite discussion of the draft amendments with state governments, MHA could not reach a consensus on decriminalization of addicts. ET had on July 7 reported that the decriminalisation plan had hit a wall- after several state governments and central ministries opposing it on logistical grounds, doubts on the rehabilitation capacity and capability of governmental machinery.

There is agreement on the need to do away with imprisonment and fines/penalties for personal consumption of drugs and introduce rehabilitation and de addiction programmes to wean away drug users. However, implementation issues remain.

“Several states favour of decriminalization, but do not have a roadmap on how to rehabilitate those found indulging in consuming drugs…,” a senior official who was part of the deliberations had earlier told ET.