The Supreme Court, in evaluating a parole application for violating the 1985 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, ruled that in the event of protracted incarceration, conditional liberty will supersede Section 37 of the Act. The Court stated that lengthy detention violates the fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 21, namely the protection of life and personal liberty.
A division bench composed of Justices Surya Kant and Dipankar Data was evaluating the parole application of an individual who was one of the occupants of a truck from which 247 kilograms of marijuana were seized. The Court noted that the individual had already been incarcerated for more than three and a half years. It also stated that the case’s trial would take some time to conclude.
In administering the two conditions for parole under Section 37 of the NDPS Act, the Court remarked:
“As regard to the twin conditions contained in Section 37 of the NDPS Act, learned counsel for the respondent – State has been duly heard. Thus, the 1st condition stands complied with. So far as the 2nd condition re: formation of opinion as to whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the petitioner is not guilty, the same may not be formed at this stage when he has already spent more than three and a half years in custody. The prolonged incarceration, generally militates against the most precious fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution and in such a situation, the conditional liberty must override the statutory embargo created under Section 37(1)(b)(i) of the NDPS Act.“
Due to the fact that the petitioner was not a resident of Orissa, where he had been detained, the Court imposed the condition that he be released on parole if he produced two local sureties before the trial court.
Shyam Manohar Mishra represented the petitioner in Court.
In Mohd. Muslim v. State (NCT of Delhi) 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 260, the Supreme Court stated that a plain and literal interpretation of Section 37’s stringent conditions would render the granting of parole impossible.
A division bench composed of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Dipankar Data stated, “A plain and literal interpretation of the conditions under Section 37 would effectively preclude the granting of bail, resulting in punitive detention and unjustified preventive detention.”
This observation was made by the Court while granting parole to a defendant who was detained seven years ago under the NDPS Act for alleged involvement in the distribution of a controlled substance.
In accordance with Section 37 of the NDPS Act, A court may grant parole to an accused only if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the accused is not responsible for the alleged offence and is unlikely to perpetrate another crime once released from detention.
“The only manner in which such special conditions as enacted under Section 37 can be considered within constitutional parameters is where the Court is reasonably satisfied on a prima face to look at the material on record (whenever the bail application is made) that the accused is not guilty. Any other interpretation would result in complete denial of the bail to a person accused of offences such as those enacted under Section 37 of the NDPS Act”, the Court had observed in the said judgment.“
In Mohd. Muslim, the Supreme Court noted that, despite the strictures of Section 37 of the 1985 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, an accused may be granted parole if the trial has been unduly delayed.
Case Details: Rabi Prakash V. The State of Odisha, Special Leave to Appeal (Crl.) No(s) 4169/2023