Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Death for drug peddling challenged for death sentence

NGOs Question Constitutional Validity Of Sentence Upon Second Conviction
Ahmedabad: The Gujarat high court has to decide whether a person convicted twice in a drug peddling offence should be sentenced to death or not after some NGOs challenged the law.
The Indian Harm Reduction Network (IHRN), a consortium of NGOs for humane drug policies, has filed a petition challenging the constitutional validity of Section 31A of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, which prescribes a mandatory death sentence for drug offences upon second conviction.
The death penalty for second time conviction was introduced into NDPS Act in 1989. The question on policy of death sentence came to the fore in 2008, when two persons — one from Mumbai and other from Ahmedabad — were awarded capital punishment upon being convicted second time in drug peddling offences. The IHRN has also filed a similar petition in the Bombay high court.
In its petition filed through advocate Anand Yagnik, IHRN has termed section 31A of the law arbitrary, disproportionate and excessive, which exacerbates the stigma and prejudice surrounding drugs and also demonises people involved with drugs. The petition also contends that a mandatory death sentence is unlawful because it prevents individualised sentencing and denies the accused the opportunity to be heard on the quantum of sentence.
The petition has contended that the legislation can provide maximum and minimum quantum of sentence for the court to be pronounced after a person is held guilty, but the quantum of punishment is complete judicial discretion.
The petition also questions the appropriateness of a death sentence for drug trafficking, which does not constitute the “most serious crime” in international human rights law.
When this petition came up for hearing on Monday before Justice Akil Kureshi, he observed that the application challenges vires of legislation. The judge also asked the registry to consider whether any public interest is involved in this litigation. Accordingly, the petition was heard by a division bench headed by the chief justice, which has issued a notice to the Attorney General of India.

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