An Indian legislative perspective to Alcohol/Drug Menace

The stand on the laws governing use of substances  in any country across the world has been varied. The efforts have been to curb the availability and addictive use of any substance.

Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act)

The NDPS Act is the solitary and wide ranging legislation which deals with the issue of all drugs including prescription medications in India. 

This Act prohibits:

-Production, manufacture, possession, sale, purchase, transport, warehousing, use, consumption, import, export or shipment of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance except for medical and scientific purposes and as per the rules or orders and conditions of licence issued.

The amendment to the act in 2014 was to make it easier for medical institutions and hospitals to obtain palliative care opioid medicines more easily. It makes the law uniform in all states and union territories regarding the same , dispensing off the red tape and multitudinous licenses that were required earlier.

The defining feature of the Act is the strong distinction it creates and draws between an Addict (user quantity) and a dealer (commercial quantity).  The punishments for a person caught with a commercial quantity are severe as laid out more specifically below.

Stringent Provisions of the Act & Criminalization of Drug Laws

-Mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment for certain offenses

-Presumption of guilt and reversal of  burden of proof

-Severe restrictions on grant of bail -A person caught with small quantities of narcotic or psychotropic drugs are entitled to bail. Section 37 makes commercial possession a non bailable offense.

-Pre-trial detention of up to 1 year

-No suspension, remission and commutation of sentences

-No release on probation under Probation for offenders Act under which conviction for offenses punishable with less than 3 years, need not be served in Jail

-Enhanced punishment (up to 30 years  imprisonment) for repeat offenders

-Compulsory death sentence for subsequent conviction for specific offences ,Section 31A NDPS. This is in conflict with Article 21 which vested the right on the court to its discretion and scrutiny before pronouncing the death sentence , hence this benefit was provided.

Treatment Provisions under the NDPS Act for persons caught with a ‘user’ quantity

If addicts are convicted for offences involving small quantities of substances then options are- treatment instead of jail. However, this is a kind of involuntary process as the person does not go to a drug/alcohol rehab out of a sense of realization and hence, it does not in most cases serve the intended purpose.

Drunken Driving Law in India

While driving a motor vehicle if a person has a Blood Alcohol Level (BAC)exceeding 30mg of intake per 100ml of blood detected by a Breathalyzer (roughly 2 small – 30 ml drinks), he or she is booked under “first offence”  where punishment can be imprisonment extending up to six months, or with a fine of up to 2000 Rs, or both

A second or subsequent offence, if committed within three years of the commission of  the previous similar offence, attracts imprisonment upto to two years, or with fine of Rs. 3000 or both. On 1 March 2012, the Union Cabinet approved proposed changes to the Motor Vehicle Act. Higher penalties were introduced, including fines from 2,000 to 10,000 and imprisonment from 6 months to 4 years.

However, despite the law, people get away with the act and thus have become a menace on Indian roads.

Prohibition of alcohol is currently in force in Gujarat, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and most recently in Bihar.  To add to that, the Supreme Court has now banned serving liquor in any place which is 500 m within any state or national highway.  This is done to curb the heavy toll of accidents on the Highways.  Results are difficult to ascertain at the moment.  Except for  huge economic losses in form of excise duty, and political for the respective politicians at the time of elections, and mass deaths due to sale of illicit liquor, the Prohibition in states has not done anything to curb the menace of Addiction in the populace. As seen in Gujarat, illicit liquor manufacture , crime and consumption gets promoted bringing along with it the horrors of adulteration and the fatal results thereof.

So called Treatment Centers

The understanding of the right kind of treatment required for the those afflicted by addiction to alcohol/drugs is very minimal in the country whether it is amongst the politicians or the law makers. Detoxification is considered to be treatment . It is believed there are medications that will work long term to treat addiction. All myths.

As a consequence there are umpteen so called”rehabs” that have mushroomed where people are picked up against their will and forced to be incarcerated , shamed, punished , abused and heavily medicated in the name of treatment.

Right Treatment

Treatment has to be voluntary, non- medical [except for the detoxification phase] and in an understanding, accepting , loving , compassionate, comfortable ambience using methods of counseling, meditation and other alternate therapies..

Every day newer and synthetic drugs enter the market and are being sold under the guise of research chemicals which the laws find  difficult to keep up with. There has to be a primary change in policy and a greater drive for awareness of the problems and the right solutions amongst the powers that be, so that people who can be great contributors to society have the opportunity to do so.

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