Does minimal drug consumption warrant conviction?
While the nation was occupied in the remembrance of Mahatma Gandhi, few knew what national storm was brewing on the coast of Mumbai. On 2nd October 2021, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) raided a private cruise (Cordelia Cruises' Empress ship) of a Delhi-based event company, to seize illicit recreational drugs. One of the cruise’s passengers was Aryan Khan, and what followed was a judicial, administrative, and public frenzy which painted a rather ghastly image over our democratic institutions.
After the dramatic raid, three of the eight arrested individuals, were presented before a special court wherein the NCB’s lawyer stated that even though the offences were bailable, the mere presence of illegal materials demanded the need to keep them in custody for two days - for investigative purposes. However, no proof of Khan possessing or consuming drugs was found.
The next day, the remaining five were presented to the court; during the hearing, NCB stated that they had recovered the chats between Aryan and the other two people who were present with him earlier. Claims by the NCB state that the drugs recovered from Aryan’s friend, Arbaaz Merchant (allegedly six grams of charas) were for the both of them, and that Khan is a regular consumer of contraband. The "shocking and incriminating" Whatsapp chats that were retrieved, apparently suggest an ongoing international drug trafficking ring - of which Khan is conspired to be a part of.
Legalities of the Arrest
Red flags were persistent from the beginning, when NCB Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede and other officers were ‘disguised’ as passengers on the cruise ship. This, however, was not a necessity as the statutory mandate of the NCB gives them full rights to seize an illicit activity involving drugs directly, not rendering any need for them to be in disguise. Disguise as an action of Indian regulating bodies is a niche, which is avoided at most costs by them.
Further, a witness named Prabhakar Sail wrote in a notarized affidavit that Mr Wankhede (indirectly) demanded Rs 25 crores for the release of Mr Khan. The issue was so serious that the NCB was forced to launch an investigation into the accusations.
The Bombay High Court concluded that Aryan was not discovered in possession of any narcotics, and that even if he was, the allegations were limited to a "small quantity" and "consumption." There were no criminal antecedents proven, and the claimed Whatsapp communications were judged to be unrelated to the case.
Thus, the drastic differences between the claims of the NCB and the reality reveal the workings of a corrupt, bleak administration - one that abused its powers for political gains and tormented a group of youngsters, without a shred of concrete evidence.
The curious case of Bail postponement
It is essential to know that the lower court of Bombay seconded the NCB in every way possible. Mr Khan was charged with the following crimes under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act – Section 8 (c), Section 20 (b), Section 27 and Section 35.
Though these crimes may be ‘unbailable’, it is essential to know that ‘unbailable’ does not mean ‘non-bailable. Unbailable crimes simply cease the right to acquire bail, however, bail may be given upon the decision of the District Court. In this case, however, with sufficient evidence, bail was still not given and was delayed till the opposing counsel went to the Bombay High Court.
Selective Media Coverage
There is no running away from the fact that Indian Media largely chases after ratings, rather than news and facts. However, this may be at the cost of the truth, which creates certain ideological dynamics inside the laymen, which are irreversible. Communalism, hate speech, scapegoating, became the three pillars of reporting this case. “Innocent until proven guilty” is more than a phrase, it is a legal obligation which the media forgot - scurrying behind catchy headlines and TRPs, to create a smokescreen, distracting the audience from crucial issues.
The sooner the Indian masses realise that prosecution, interpretation and coverage of the indictment involving a well-known personality, is driven by dark undemocratic forces rather than justice itself, the better.
The entire incident begs the question : did the case unravel as a matter of only consuming illegal substances? or did it portray the tendency of law enforcement agencies to disregard the existence of evidence to arrest people solely on suspicion?
The case is a classic example of how an inferiority complex paves the way for mass scapegoating, exclusively for the reason of public clout. The case, unfortunately, does NOT emphasize the legality of recreational drugs nor unlawful trade, but it rather sheds the light on Indian Medias’ selective informational propagating agenda and the very infringement of constitutionalism.
~ Lorik Yadav & Shounik Joshi