Punjab and Haryana High Court upholds Article 21 over NDPS Act restrictions

Chandigarh, In a significant judgment, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has made it clear that the fairness guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution will take precedence over the restrictions imposed by Section 37 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.
The Bench also made it clear that some curtailment of personal liberty might be unavoidable. But an excessively long period of deprivation pending trial would violate the fairness guaranteed by Article 21. The assertion came as Bench granted regular bail to an accused “solely on the ground of long custody already undergone, without commenting on the merits of the case”.
The Bench noted that the accused had been in custody for more than three years and four months. The trial had not even reached the halfway mark as 11 out of 19 prosecution witnesses were yet to be examined.
The judgment is significant as it aims at maintaining a crucial balance between the State’s authority and an individual’s constitutional rights. It underscores that the right to speedy trial is enshrined in Article 21 and cover investigation, inquiry, trial, appeal, revision and retrial –– everything starting from accusation against the accused and ending with the final verdict by the “last court”.
Section 37, on the other hand, makes it clear that the severity or strictness in granting bail is applicable to offences involving commercial quantity. It indicates that no person accused of an offence punishable under this law “shall be released on bail or on his own bond unless— the public prosecutor has been given an opportunity to oppose the application for such release and where the public prosecutor opposes the application, the Court is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that he is not guilty of such offence and that he is not likely to commit any offence while on bail.”
Justice Harpreet Singh Brar asserted: “Some amount of denial of personal liberty cannot be avoided, but if the period of deprivation pending trial becomes excessively long, the fairness guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India would come into play and it would prevail over the embargo created by Section 37 of the NDPS Act”
The Bench also affirmed that the deprivation of an individual’s liberty must adhere to reasonable, fair, and just procedures, as mandated by Article 21. Depriving a person of his liberty under a procedure not reasonable, fair, or just would be violative of his fundamental right under Article 21. The procedure prescribed must ensure speedy trial for determination of the guilt of such person.

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