Sunday 25 October 2020

NCB says drug probe not related to Sushant’s death; HC to decide custody/bail of Rhea

NCB argued against the bail application of Rhea, saying not all charges against her were bailable though they aren't linked to Sushant's death

While the media had largely not highlighted it, the NCB had argued before the Bombay High Court on 29 September — against the bail applications of Rhea Chakraborty and others — that the agency’s drug probe had nothing to do with the death of Sushant Singh Rajput. Whereas the agency said it was digging out the rampant consumption of contraband substances in the film industry, the argument answers a question troubling observers for a long time as to why an investigation into a suspected murder turned into a probe into who all do drugs in Bollywood.

The judicial custody of actor Rhea Chakraborty, her brother Showik Chakraborty, and 18 others whom the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) had arrested in connection with its probe into the drug angle is likely to be extended today for another 14 days. The Bombay High Court has finished hearing their bail pleas, and the single bench has reserved its order.

The NCB had arrested Chakraborty and her brother after their WhatsApp chats showed they were regular consumers of contraband substances during the investigation into Rajput’s untimely death. The NCB interrogated Chakraborty for three consecutive days — on 6, 7 and 8 September — and arrested her.

According to the NCB, the actor was “involved in illicit trafficking of drug and she financed drugs for Sushant Singh Rajput.” The NCB levelled similar allegations against Showik Chakraborty and added stringent conditions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985, against the siblings.

A special NDPS court turned down their bail applications on 11 September. Following this, Chakraborty and her brother had moved the Bombay High Court for bail, challenging the allegation of “financing” narcotic drugs for the consumption of the deceased actor.

Sushant case: Arguments in Rhea’s defence

Arguing their bail applications before the high court, advocate Satish Maneshinde said Rajput was in no dearth of funds. His house manager Samuel Miranda used to take care of “all” household expenses, and there was no question of Chakraborty financing drug purchases for the deceased actor.

Responding to NCB’s accusation that Chakraborty was part of a drug syndicate, Maneshinde said the allegations were based on merely a solitary incident of 17 March when Rhea gave her credit card to Rajput’s house manager Miranda, who withdrew Rs 10,000 using the card and purchased some contraband material for the deceased actor.

The defence lawyer maintained that no amount was paid directly using Chakraborty’s card to any of the alleged peddlers for procuring drugs and, therefore, she could not be said to be associated with any drug ring. It was an admitted fact, he insisted, that Rajput was consuming drugs even before Chakraborty became acquainted with him in April 2019.

Two of Rajput’s co-stars, Sara Ali Khan and Shraddha Kapoor, have reportedly told NCB that he was consuming drugs for quite a while — Maneshinde reminded the court.

Maneshinde said Showik Chakraborty too was accused of being part of a drug syndicate for allegedly paying petty amounts on three occasions in April 2020 to purchase minuscule amounts of hashish and marijuana.

The lawyer added that stringent provisions contained in 27A of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, for financing illicit trafficking of drugs or harbouring offenders were not at all applicable to Rhea Chakraborty or Showik Chakraborty, even if one went by the allegations levelled by NCB.

NCB also alleged that Rhea Chakraborty had harboured Rajput. Maneshinde had argued that during the relevant period, Chakraborty was living with Rajput in his house. He questioned how she could have harboured the late actor in his own house.

Advocate Taraq Sayed, who had argued the bail plea of another man accused in the case, Abdel Basit Parihar, submitted that NCB had been claiming to have busted a major drug ring by arresting 18 or 19 college students. He claimed that almost all the persons arrested by NCB in the case come from well-to-do families and could not by any stretch of imagination be termed as drug peddlers or suppliers.

Sayed submitted that the arrests were made only on the basis of statements recorded under Section 67 of the NDPS Act, especially when there was hardly any recovery from most of them. He said the statements under Section 67 can at the most be used to corroborate recovery from an accused, and not otherwise.

Sayed said Parihar is a final-year student of architecture and had missed his examination as he had been arrested by NCB. He added that though a moralistic argument was being advanced by NCB as to how society, especially the younger generation, was affected by the menace of narcotic drugs, in India, more people die due to smoking than by drug abuse.

Maintaining that all alleged transactions involve small quantities of drugs and therefore were bailable, Sayed said all five applicants before the high court — Rhea Chakraborty, Showik Chakraborty, Miranda, other Rajput staffers Dipesh Sawant and Parihar — were entitled to bail as a matter of right.

In support of his submission that the offences alleged were bailable, Sayed relied on a 2010 judgment of Bombay High Court holding that all offences under NDPS Act involving small quantities were bailable.

Prosecution not impressed

Additional solicitor general Anil Singh, who opposed the bail applications on behalf of NCB, however submitted that the applicants were under a wrong assumption that all offences under the NDPS Act involving small quantity of drugs were bailable. Singh submitted that NDPS Act nowhere states that certain offences were bailable and claimed that all offences under the Act were non-bailable.

Justice Sarang Kotwal had agreed with his submission. The judge referred to a 1999 judgement of a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, observing that all offences under the NDPS Act were non-bailable, and no other court was therefore authorised to take a different view of the issue.

On 29 September, the anti-drug agency had told the court that its investigation had nothing to do with Rajput’s death and that it was a case of “drug syndication”.

“All throughout arguments, applicants state that this is connected to Sushant Singh Rajput death case but this investigation has nothing to do with it,” ASG Anil Singh, the lawyer for NCB, told the court.

The NCB further said that all the people arrested in the case are interlinked to each other and there were regular links and purchasing of drugs.

The judge had then reserved the order on 29 September.

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