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The Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice U. U. Lalit, Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice Krishna Murari has observed that the mandate of Section 50 of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 is only limited to “personal search” and not to search of vehicles. However, the vehicular search had yielded 34 kg of contraband substance, which compelled the apex court to return a ‘guilty’ verdict in the case.

This observation came in State of Punjab v Baljinder Singh where two policemen had stopped a vehicle on the bye-pass which was coming towards them and on seeing the policemen the driver tried to reverse the vehicle. On asking, the driver and the passenger disclosed their identities. One of the policemen suspected them of carrying some contraband and wanted to search them. They were informed of their rights to be searched in the presence of Magistrate or Gazetted Police Officer and joint statements were taken and their vehicle was searched. On search, 7 bags containing Poppy Husk was recovered which weighed 34 kg.

Hence Baljinder Singh, the driver and Khushi Khan, who was accompanying him were found guilty of offence committed under Section 15 of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and were awarded 12 years rigorous imprisonment and 2 lakhs fine failing to pay which their term was to be extended by 2 years.

This was challenged before the High Court where the judgment of the Trial Court was set aside  and both of them were acquitted citing the reason that the “personal search” was not conducted in the presence of Magistrate or a Gazetted Officer which was a complete infraction of Section 50 of the Act.

When the matter came before the Apex Court, the court said that, “the personal search of the accused did not result in recovery of any contraband. Even if there was any such recovery, the same could not be relied upon for want of compliance of the requirements of Section 50 of the Act. But the search of the  vehicle and recovery of contraband pursuant thereto having stood proved, merely because there was non-compliance of Section 50 of the Act as far as “personal search” was concerned, no benefit can be extended so as to invalidate the effect of recovery from the search of the vehicle.”

The Supreme Court set aside the view of the High Court and restored the order of conviction recorded by the Trial Court and held Baljinder Singh and Khushi Khan to be guilty.

— India legal Bureau

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