The Supreme Court has recently held that convicting a person under the NDPS (Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances) Act, 1985 merely on the ground that he was the registered owner of the vehicle is not legally sustainable.

The two-Judge Bench comprising Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Rajesh Bindal observed, “In the entire evidence led by the prosecution, no material was produced against the Appellant to discharge initial burden to prove the foundational facts that the offence was committed with the knowledge and consent of the Appellant. It is a case in which he was not with the vehicle nor was he arrested from the spot when the accident occurred or when truck and contraband were taken into custody. He has been convicted merely on the ground that he was the registered owner of the truck. The Trial Court had put entire burden of defence on the Appellant being the registered owner of the vehicle.”

The Court relied upon its decision in the case of Bhola Singh v. State of Punjab (2011) 11 SCC 653 wherein it was held that unless the vehicle is used with the knowledge and consent of the owner thereof, which is sine qua non for applicability of Section 25 of the NDPS Act, conviction thereunder cannot be legally sustained.

Advocate Brij Bhushan appeared for the appellant i.e., the accused while AAG Dinesh Chandra Yadav appeared for the respondent i.e., the State.

In this case, the appellant was a registered owner of a truck who was convicted vide judgment passed by the Trial Court under Section 25 of the NDPS Act. He was sentenced to undergo imprisonment for a period of 10 years.

In appeal, the conviction and sentence of the appellant were upheld by the High Court vide an order. The said order was, therefore, under challenge before the Apex Court on account that the appellant was not arrested from the spot.

The Supreme Court after hearing the arguments of both parties noted, “… the prosecution has failed to produce any material on record to show that the vehicle in question, if was used for any illegal activity, was used with the knowledge and consent of the Appellant. Even presumption as provided for under Section 35 of the NDPS Act will not be available for the reason that the prosecution had failed to discharge initial burden on it to prove the foundational facts. In the absence thereof, the onus will not shift on the accused.”

The Court asserted that the primary error committed by the Courts below while convicting the appellant was that the onus sought to be shifted on him to prove his innocence without the foundational facts having been proved by the prosecution and hence, the conviction of the appellant cannot be legally sustained.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the appeal, set aside the impugned judgment of the High Court, and acquitted the accused.

Cause Title- Harbhajan Singh v. State of Haryana

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