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Examining The Applicability Of Section 50 NDPS Act 1985 In The Cases Of Composite Search

The provision of protection for individuals who are the subject of an investigation for possession of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance is provided by Section 50(1) of the Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985, which is widely regarded as one of the statute's most essential provisions. Any search carried out in accordance with Section 50 must be seen by a magistrate or another officer who has been gazetted.

In the event that a person who is being searched in accordance with Sections 41, 42, or 43 makes a request to see a Gazetted Officer of one of the agencies named in Section 42 or a Magistrate, the officer who is conducting the search is obligated to comply without undue delay. The provision in question can be found in the Act's Section 50 (1).

Despite the Supreme Court's numerous rulings, it is unclear whether Section 50 (1) applies when a person is subjected to a "composite search," which involves searching the person's body as well as their bag, car, or other object. In some of the case laws listed below, it was said that Section 50(1) must be strictly followed when conducting a "composite search," but in other case laws, the Supreme Court took a different stance.
The present article analyses the conflict of views.

Supreme Court precedent has consistently upheld the idea that vehicles, bags, and other such items do not need to comply with Section 50(1) of the NDPS Act, 1985 unless the search is of the person. The Constitution Bench's ruling in the Baldev Singh case, namely paragraph 12 of that ruling, provides the basis for this assertion.

Supreme Court said that "on its plain reading, Section 50 would come into play only in the case of a search of a person as distinguished from a search of any premises, etc." This distinction was made by the court because section 50 would come into play only in the case of a search of a person.

A law enforcement officer has a duty to inform a suspect of his legal rights under Section 50(1) of the NDPS Act 1985, as implied by the Supreme Court's decision in State of Punjab vs. Baldev Singh. The Supreme Court's ruling supports this inference. If this provision is breached in any other way, the prosecution's case may be further weakened because the recovery may be seen as questionable. However, the Supreme Court did not directly consider composite search cases in State of Punjab v. Baldev Singh.

Conflict of views:While the suspect was being physically searched in Madan Lal v. State of HP, the relevant item turned up in the suspect's bag, which had been left inside the car. It is not necessary to comply with Section 50 of the NDPS Act, 1985 if the recovery is performed from a vehicle, a bag, or any other object. The Supreme Court reached this decision after deliberating on the Baldev Singh case in a divided panel. The decision stated that Section 50 must be followed when a physical search is conducted, but that compliance with Section 50 is not needed under any other conditions.

In a different case, Krishna Kanwar v. State of Rajasthan, a division bench of the Supreme Court dileverd conflicting opinions about composite searches. In this case, the acquittal of the third and fourth accused was confirmed because Section 50 was not compiled, and the Supreme Court made it clear that whenever a personal search is involved, Section 50 has to be compiled strictly, irrespective of the fact that recovery was effected from the bag or vehicle.

The Division Bench of the Supreme Court in the cases of the State of Rajasthan vs. Daulat Ram and the State of Haryana vs. Ranbir, while relying upon the State of HP vs. Pawan Kumar, held that Section 50 is not applicable in cases of "composite search". Subsequently, in Dilip v. State of MP, nothing was recovered from the body of the person, but contraband was recovered from the scooter.

The SC division bench acquitted the accused of all the charges of NDPS because Section 50 was not followed, and it was observed that "since the personal search was involved, it was required by the investigation agency to adhere to Section 50(1).

The Supreme Court division bench in the case of Union of India v. Shah Alam noted the Pawan Kumar case and held that the jurisprudence to distinguish the search of someone's person and baggage carried by him is unexceptional. In this case, along with the bodily search of the accused's baggage, it was held that omission to comply with Section 50 is a violation of the law. The judgement pronounced by the Supreme Court in UOI v. Shah Alam was reiterated by the Supreme Court division bench in the case of the State of Rajasthan v. Parmanand.

Significantly, the issue again came before the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in the case of SK Raju v. the State of West Bengal. In this case, recovery was not effected by the body but from the jute that was carried by the accused, and the Supreme Court, while adjudicating this case, referred to many division bench rulings on this aspect and held that compliance with Section 50 is mandatory in cases of composite search irrespective of the fact that recovery was effected from the bag, vehicle, receptacle, etc.

The issue of composite searches again came before the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in the case of the State of Punjab v. Baljinder Singh. The Supreme Court again relooked the case of State of Punjab vs. Baldev Singh and said that the bare reading of Section 50 suggests that its compliance is only required in personal search cases. The Supreme Court also overruled the division bench ruling in the case of Dilip vs. State of MP by saying that the judgement was pronounced by contravening the law laid down in the Baldev Singh case.

Then Kunwar v. the State of Haryana is a case from the year 2020 that brought this matter before a Supreme Court division bench. The division bench considered the arguments presented by both Sk Raju and Baljinder Singh. "It appears that the inspiration in the Baljinder Singh case is drawn from the Baldev Singh case," the Supreme Court wrote, "and it is not obvious that the judgement of SK Raju vs. State of West Bengal was not brought to the attention of the Baljinder Singh case." Therefore, the Supreme Court's division bench relied on the precedent set in the State of Punjab v. Baljinder Singh.

From the above-mentioned cases, it can be inferred that despite the plethora of judgements on the issue of "composite search" cases, there is a lot of unclarity on whether compliance with Section 50(1) is mandatory or not. It is important to note that the Sk Raju case also examined the Baldev Singh case, and now the question is which judgement should be adopted by the division bench of the Supreme Court.

So the only solution is that this issue shall be referred to the larger bench of the supreme court, and the word etc." appearing in para. 12 of State of Punjab v. Baldev Singh also requires a wider interpretation.

Further, there is a need for a wider interpretation of Section 50(1), and the investigation agency should mandatorily adhere to the provision even if contraband is recovered from a bag, vehicle, receptacle, etc

The question surrounding the composite search needs to be addressed authoritatively, as the entire jurisprudence is based on the interpretation of the word "etc".

  1. Section 50 Ndps Act, 1985.
  2. State Of Punjab V. Baldev Singh (1999) 6 Scc 172.
  3. Madam Lal V. State Of Hp (2003) 7 Scc 465.
  4. Krishna Kanwar V. State Of Rajasthan (2004) 2 Scc 608.
  5. State Of Rajasthan Vs. Daulat Ram (2005)7 Scc 36.
  6. State Of Haryana Vs. Ranbir (2006) 5 Scc 167.
  7. Dilip V. State Of Mp (2007) 1 Scc 450.
  8. Uoi V. Shah Alam (2009) 16 Scc 450.
  9. State Of Hp Vs. Pawan Kumar (2005) 4 Scc 350.
  10. Sk Raju Vs State Of West Bengal (2018) 9 Scc 708.
  11. State Of Punjab Vs. Baljinder Singh (2019) 10 Scc 473.
  12. Than Kunwar Vs State Of Haryana (2020) 5 Scc 260.
  13. State Of Rajasthan Vs Parmanand (2014) 5 Scc 708.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Alok Singh
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