SC: Presumptions u/s 34 & 54 NDPS Act doesn’t dispense obligation to prove case beyond reasonable doubt

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 5th August 2020, in the matter of Gangadhar alias Gangaram v. State of Madhya Pradesh observed that the presumption against the accused of culpability under Section 35, and under Section 54 of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 to explain possession satisfactorily, are rebuttable. It does not dispense with the obligation of the prosecution to prove the charge beyond all reasonable doubt.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

The presumption against the accused of culpability under Section 35, and under Section 54 of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 to explain possession satisfactorily, are rebuttable. It does not dispense with the obligation of the prosecution to prove the charge beyond all reasonable doubt. The presumptive provision with reverse burden of proof, does not sanction conviction on basis of preponderance of probability. Section 35(2) provides that a fact can be said to have been proved if it is established beyond reasonable doubt and not on preponderance of probability.  (Para 9)

The stringent provisions of the NDPS Act, such as Section 37, the minimum sentence of 10 years, absence of any provision for remission do not dispense with the requirements of prosecution to establish a prima facie case beyond reasonable doubt after investigation, only where after which the burden of proof shall shift to the accused. The gravity of the sentence and the stringency of the provisions will therefore call for a heightened scrutiny of the evidence for establishment of foundational facts by the prosecution. (Para 10)

Conviction could not be based on a foundation of conjectures and surmises to conclude on a preponderance of probabilities, the guilt of the accused without establishing the same beyond reasonable doubt. (Para 14)

Normally the Supreme Court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution does not interfere with concurrent findings of facts delving into appreciation of evidence. But in a given case, concerning the liberty of the individual, if the Court is satisfied that the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case, the evidence led was wholly insufficient and there has been gross misappreciation of evidence by the courts below bordering on perversity, the Supreme Court shall not be inhibited in protecting the liberty of the individual. (Para 16)

Copy of judgement: Judgement_05-Aug-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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