Mohanlal vs. State of Punjab (2018) 

This article is written by Prashant Prasad. It deals with the facts, issues, contention of the parties, the various legal aspects involved, and the judgement that was delivered by the Apex Court in the case of Mohanlal vs State of Punjab (2018), along with the impact of the same on the present legal scenario. It deals with the concerned legal provisions of the NDPS Act, 1985, other relevant legal concepts, as well as an understanding of the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. 

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, a fundamental right, provides protection to our life and personal liberty. Free and fair investigation is covered under the ambit of Article 21 and hence no person shall be deprived of this right. The principles of natural justice must be adhered to while dealing with a case of any nature and the principles of natural justice predominantly revolve around the two maxims namely – Audi Alteram Partem and Nemo Judex in Causa Sua.

The first maxim translates to the principle that the court must give all parties an opportunity to be heard. The second maxim lays down the principles regarding the adjudication of matter. It holds that no one can be the judge in his own case. This maxim ensures that the person adjudicating the matter shall not have any interest or bias in the case that is going to be decided by him.

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The present case revolves around the second maxim, which states that nobody can be the judge in his own case. The vitality of this case primarily revolves around the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (hereinafter referred as NDPS Act). This case presents a significant verdict of the Apex Court, in which it was held that in case the informant and the investigator are the same person, the accused is entitled to acquittal.

The NDPS Act is an important piece of legislation that was passed with the purpose of regulating the distribution and consumption of drugs. This Act has established stringent provisions aimed at reducing the misuse of drugs, whether it is illegal possession, sale, consumption, or other activities relating to drugs and psychotropic substances. The provisions of this Act establish a mechanism that would enable forfeiture of drugs, as well as the property that is obtained with the use of drugs and other psychotropic substances. The offences that are committed under this Act attract imprisonment which can go up to 20 years, depending upon the seriousness of the offence committed, along with a possible fine.  

However, the duties of the police officials and other authorities for achieving the purpose of this Act, must be performed in a reasonable and judicial manner. Every accused possesses rights, as a constitutional mandate under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, to have the case investigated in a free and fair manner. In case the investigation is performed in a way that would raise a serious question regarding the truthfulness of the result of investigation, the court possesses the power to intervene in the results of the same and can order further investigation or re-investigation, as the case may be.

Against the backdrop of the present case, i.e. Mohanlal vs. State of Punjab (2018), there exists a legal battle between the individual’s liberty and the role played by the state authority amidst the complex provisions of the NDPS Act. The court in the present case, examined the tussle between both the situations and finally arrived at the decision, taking into consideration that the right to life and personal liberty to be of paramount importance, which must be safeguarded.    

Details of the case

  • Bench of Judges – Navin Sinha, R. Banumathi, Ranjan Gogoi
  • Date of judgement – 16th August 2018
  • Citation – 2019 CRI LJ 420
  • Case type – Criminal Appeal
  • Name of the court – The Supreme Court of India

Sub-Inspector of Balianwali Police Station, Chand Singh was accompanied by Darshan Singh, the Sarpanch, and Assistant Sub-Inspector Balwinder Singh, during the patrol duty. Upon seeing the appellant i.e. Mohan Lal, some amount of reasonable suspicion and doubts arose in the mind of the witness present over there, and therefore, Shri Rajinder N. Dhoke, who was an IPS (a gazetted officer) called the appellant and searched him. The search led to the discovery of 4 kg of opium in a bag, which was carried by the appellant. Upon recovery of the opium, a consent memo was signed by Darshan Singh, who was a private person in a police vehicle, and Chand Singh (Sub-Inspector).

The opium seized was separated into two samples, of which one was of 20 grams, while the others were of 3 kilograms and 980 grams. A specimen of the seal was prepared by Sub-Inspector Chand Singh and after attaching it, the seized material was handed over to ASI Balwinder Singh. Thereafter, a separate recovery memo was prepared by Chand Singh and was sent to Balianwali Police Station. As a result the Assistant Sub-Inspector named Darshan Singh, registered a formal FIR. After the FIR was filed, the entire investigation was handed over to Chand Singh. The property related to the case was retained by Sub-Inspector Chand Singh and was not deposited to a warehouse which is used to store the items that are seized and are suspected to be connected with a crime. Apart from this, no entry was made in the police diary. The item that was seized was kept under the private custody of Sub-Inspector Chand Singh, in a rented accommodation.

After the conclusion of the entire investigation process, the accused was charge-sheeted, put on trial, and was eventually convicted under Section 18 of the NDPS Act, which sentenced him to a rigorous imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of rupees 1,00,000/- (rupees one lakh).

  • The main issue before the court of law was that, since Section 35 of the NDPS Act, 1985 carries a reverse burden of proof, does an informant of the case become an investigative officer, and if so, would it be in consonance with the principle of justice, fair play and fair investigation?  

Burden of proof

During the trial of the case, the parties may make a claim under the impression that it is a well established fact. However, the validity and truthfulness of these claims must be proved. This concept is known as burden of proof. The provisions regarding burden of proof can be found under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 from Section 101 to Section 114. As a general rule, the burden of proof lies on the prosecution, wherein they are required to prove that injury has been suffered by them beyond reasonable doubt. Apart from this, if the case pertains to a heinous crime, the burden of proof shifts to the accused, and the accused must prove that he/she is innocent.

In the present criminal case under the NDPS Act, the burden of proof lies on the prosecution, and they must prove to the court beyond reasonable doubt that the accused has actually committed the crime.

KM Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra (1962)

In this case, Nanavati was accused of murder and the defence taken by him relied on the ground that he committed that act due to a sudden and grave provocation. Initially, the burden of proof lay on the prosecution, but with the help of Section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act, it was later shifted to the accused. Finally, the defence taken by the accused did not sustain, and he was convicted of murder.

To read case analysis of KM Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra, click here. 

Reverse burden of proof

Once the prosecution has successfully submitted and proved all the facts and any other relevant aspects, the burden of proof shifts to the accused to present his side and this is regarded as a reverse burden of proof.

Reverse burden of proof can be defined as a legal doctrine in which the burden of proof shifts from the prosecution to the defence. Hence, the defendant under this doctrine, is required to prove innocence on his part, rather than the prosecution proving his guilt.

Rebutting of presumption – reverse burden of proof

There is a general presumption in criminal jurisprudence which states that an accused is innocent until proven guilty. This provision as a general rule is applicable to all the general and special statutes, unless excluded. There also exist exceptions for instance, an exception to the general rule is available under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 by virtue of Sections 111A (Presumption as to certain offences), 113A (Presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman), 113B (Presumption as to dowry death), and 114A (Presumption regarding lack of consent in specific rape prosecutions) etc. of the Indian Evidence Act.

On a similar note, Section 35 of the NDPS Act, provides an exception. This Section elucidates that the court shall presume the existence of a culpable mental state of the accused. However, the accused must prove that there was no such mental element. Therefore, it can be said that the accused is required to rebut the presumption against him and hence, the burden of proof lies on him.

Naresh Kumar v. State of Himachal Pradesh (2017)

In the case of Naresh Kumar v. State of Himachal Pradesh (2017), the Apex Court set aside the conviction which was imposed by the High Court on the accused, who was charged under the NDPS Act. The allegation against the accused stated that 2 kg of charas was recovered from the bag, which was in his possession. The Apex Court observed that the presumption of culpability against the accused under Section 35 and Section 54 is rebuttable. Apart from this, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was under the possession of such material.

Article 21

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution provides an individual with the right to life and personal liberty as a fundamental right. The rights provided under this article are the most vital and basic. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by the law”. The interpretation of this provision by the Indian Judiciary includes various aspects of human life and liberty that go beyond mere physical existence. The Supreme Court of India in its catena of judgments has held that the right to life includes the rights to livelihood, right to privacy, right to a clean environment, right to a free and fair trial, right to live with dignity, right to shelter, right to nutritional food, right against illegal detention, right to health and medical assistance, right to sleep, right to education, etc.

The landmark case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978) played a crucial role in expanding the scope of Article 21. The Supreme Court of India, in this case, held that the right to life and personal liberty does not merely refer to animal existence, but it also extends to the right to lead a meaningful life. The court further observed that the right to life also includes the right to travel abroad, and the government cannot curtail this right without specifying a reasonable reason for the same. This judgment is one of the vital decisions that expanded the overall scope of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. 

Fair Investigation as fundamental right   

Peace and harmony among the people are one of the essential components of a democratic society. Every person is entitled to certain rights, which would ensure a basic, just and dignified way of life. Article 20 of the Indian Constitution safeguards the rights of the accused. This, along with Article 21, calls for a fair trial as well as a fair investigation. It is not always the crime that deters the peace and harmony of the society, but along with that, flawed investigation can also eventually contribute to the same. Therefore, for the rule of law to exist, investigation must be carried out in a fair and transparent manner, which would not strip the concerned parties of their fundamental rights. 

Ajay Kumar & Ors. vs. State of U.P. & Ors (2020)

In the case of Ajay Kumar & Ors. vs. State of U.P. & Ors (2020), it was held that the primary duty of the investigative officer is to investigate the case in a fair manner and in accordance with the law. The court further stated that in every civilised society, the police force has been vested with the power to investigate the crime and in the interest of society the investigative office should act in an honest and fair manner and must not create any false or fabricated evidence. It was further observed by the court, that a fair trial includes a fair investigation as it can be well inferred through Article 20 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, and if the investigation is neither effective nor fair, then in that situation, the court may, if considered necessary, order for further investigation or re-investigation, to prevent injustice.

Provisions under the NDPS Act, 1985

Criminal litigation

Section 35

This Section deals with the presumption of culpable mental state. It states that in any prosecution of a criminal offence under this Act, which requires the culpable mental state (includes intention motive, knowledge of fact and belief in, or reason to believe, a fact) of the accused, the court would presume the existence of such mental element. However, as a defence the accused must prove that there existed no such mental element on the basis of which the accused has been charged.

For the purpose of this Section, a fact is said to be proved when the court believes that the fact has been proved beyond any reasonable doubt and does not exist merely on the preponderance or balance of probability. Therefore, it can clearly be inferred that any person who has been charged with any offence under the NDPS Act, would be required to rebut the presumption against him. 

In the case of Naresh Kumar alias Nitu vs. State of Himachal Pradesh (2017), it was held by the Supreme Court of India that the presumption of culpability against the accused under Section 35 and Section 54 of the NDPS Act is rebuttable on the part of the accused. However, this does not take away the right of the prosecution to prove the allegations that were imposed on them, beyond reasonable doubt. Furthermore, in Abdul Rasid Ibrahim Mansuri vs. State of Gujarat (2000), wherein the accused had admitted that the narcotic substances had been recovered from the bag which was in his possession, the court held that, with respect to Section 35 it can be said that the burden of proof is on the accused to prove that he has no knowledge of the bag under his possession contained such narcotic substances.

Section 37

This Section delves into the nature of an offence. It is laid down that every offence under the NDPS Act shall be considered as a cognizable offence (offences in which the police officer may arrest without warrant) and non-bailable. It further states that if the accused is punishable for an offence under Section 19 (embezzlement of opium by cultivator) or Section 24 (external dealing in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances) or Section 27A (financing illicit traffic and harbouring offenders) and also for an offence dealing with a commercial quantity, he shall not be released on bail or on his own bond unless-

  • An opportunity has been given to the Public Prosecutor to oppose the application for release.
  • In a situation where the Public Prosecutor has opposed the application, the court believes that there exists reasonable ground based on which it could be ascertained that the accused is not guilty of the offence concerned and is not likely to commit an offence while on bail.

The limitations under this Section, for granting bail, are in addition to the limitations that are given under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) or any other laws presently in force.

In Narcotics Control Bureau vs. Mohit Agarwal (2022), it was observed by the Supreme Court of India that the word “reasonable grounds” used under Section 37 of the NDPS Act refers to a credible ground, which would enable the court to believe that the accused has not committed the offence for which he has been charged. It was further stated by the court that under Section 37, bail cannot be granted merely on the fact that nothing was found under the possession of the accused. It was added that, to arrive at the decision of bail under this Section, there exist such circumstances and facts, which could persuade the court into believing that the accused has not committed any offence and hence, is not guilty.  

Further, in the case of Satpal Singh vs. State of Punjab (2018), it was held by the Supreme Court of India that in a case related to drugs, before passing any order, Section 37 of the NDPS Act must be taken into consideration. 

The Apex Court, in Union of India vs. Thamisharasi and Ors. (1995), held that there was no conflict between Section 167 of the CrPC and Section 37 of the NDPS Act, stating that limitations of Section 37 of the NDPS Act are not attracted when statutory bail is granted under Section 167 of the CrPC. Notably, Section 167 of CrPC deals with the provision of bail on expiry of the remand period. 

Section 54

This Section concerns itself with the presumption from possession of legally forbidden objects. It is stated that at the stage of trial under the NDPS Act, it may be presumed, unless the contrary is proved, that an offence has been committed relating to –

  • Any kind of narcotic drug or psychotropic substance or controlled substance.
  • Any opium poppy, cannabis plant, or coca plant growing on land which was cultivated by the person concerned. 
  • Any apparatus or utensil particularly formulated for the manufacturing of any narcotic drugs or psychotropic substance or controlled substance. 
  • Any substance that is used or processed to make narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances or controlled substance or any residue of the same.   

For the possession of which he fails to justify properly, the accused may rebut the presumption by producing material evidence which proves his innocence. 

In the case of Anav Jain v. State of Haryana (2022), it was held by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, that the presumption that is outlined under Section 54 of the NDPS Act can only be invoked if the procedure that is outlined under the Act is followed, i.e., if the concerned material was found to be in the possession of the accused. 

Section 55

This Section covers the power of the police to take control of objects seized and delivered. It has been mentioned that while awaiting the orders of the Magistrate regarding the seized object. All material seized under this Act, shall be taken over by an officer-in-charge of the police station of the local area within which the articles are seized. Additionally, any officer who accompanies the articles concerned, to the police station or is deputed for the same, shall attach his seal to the article or take samples of it, which shall be marked with a seal of the concerned officer-in-charge. 

In the case of Vinayak S/0. Dnyanoba Gaikwad & Ors. vs State of Maharashtra (2004) it was reiterated by the Bombay High Court that a straightforward interpretation of Section 55 designates the superior police officer to handle the seized items, store them securely and also permit anyone accompanying the seized items to the police station, to seal them. However, the seal of the officer-in-charge of the police station is essential.

Contentions raised by the appellants

Learned counsel for the appellant, Sh. Chanchal Kumar Ganguli submitted the following –

  • That being a stringent law, the NDPS Act carries the concept of reverse burden of proof and the provisions relating to it must be adhered to strictly. The investigation must not only be fair and judicial, but must also appear to be done in a fair and judicial manner.
  • It was further submitted by the counsel that the investigation must not be done in a manner in which the result leaves an apprehension in the mind of the accused that the investigation was not carried out in a fair and bonafide way.
  • It was argued by the counsel that no reason was given by the prosecution with respect to why Darshan Singh, who was accompanied in a police vehicle as a private person and ASI Balwinder, have not been examined. Furthermore, either proper examination must be carried out, or the reasons must be stated. Neither was done.
  • The counsel questioned the reason behind why the seized item was not deposited to a warehouse which is used to store the items that are seized and are suspected to be connected with a crime and was kept in the private custody of Sub-Inspector Chand Singh, along with no explanation being furnished regarding the same.
  • Another fact that remained unexplainable was that there was a delay of 9 days in sending the sample for chemical analysis, and this must be taken into consideration, since there was no explanation provided for the same.
  • The counsel referred to the precedents of Bhagwan Singh vs. State of Rajasthan (1976), Megha Singh vs. State of Haryana (1996), etc. and submitted that being an informant of the case, one cannot also be the investigative officer of the same case.

Contentions raised by the respondents

Learned counsel for the respondent, Ms. Jaspreet Gogai contended that following –

  • That the accused was examined in the presence of Shri Rajinder N. Dhoke who is an IPS, a gazetted officer and it was further submitted that the failure to examine Darshan Singh or ASI Balwinder Singh was not of significance, since the whole instance of search and recovery of opium was duly proved by Sub-Inspector Chand Singh and Shri Rajinder N. Dhoke.
  • It was further contended that the evidence given by the police officer must not impair its legal validity. There shall be a presumption that the official duties performed by the police officer must be regularly performed.
  • In view of statutory presumption under Section 35 and Section 54 of the NDPS Act, the burden of proof for innocence shall lie on the accused. 
  • Relying on the precedents of State of Punjab vs. Baldev Singh (1999), Bhaskar Ramappa Madar & Ors. vs. State of Karnataka (2009), it was contended by the counsel that the investigation does not lose its legal validity simply because Sub-Inspector Chand Singh was an informant in the present case. 

The court allowed the appeal primarily on the ground of constitutional guarantee of a fair investigation. The various considerations of the Supreme Court on this matter are as follows-

Instances that form the matter of further investigation

The court was of the opinion that Darshan Singh was an illiterate person who was accompanying Sub-Inspector Chand Singh in the police vehicle, along with ASI Balwinder Singh which implied that Darshan Singh’s signature on the consent memo could not have been possible and hence, raises suspicion. It was further stated by the court that the substance related to the case was kept by Sub-Inspector Chand Singh in the private custody of his rented accommodation and went on to question why despite the availability of an authorized warehouse which is used to store the items that are seized, the property was kept in private accommodation. 

Moreover, there was no entry made in the police diary by Sub-Inspector Chand Singh, and no explanation was provided for the same. Apart from this, the signatures of ASI Balwinder Singh and Shri Rajinder N. Dhoke was not obtained on the consent memo. Additionally, there was a delay of 9 days in sending the sample for chemical analysis. The court further held that if the informant and the investigator of the case had been different, the matter of consideration would have differed as well. The appellant had taken the defence under Section 313 of the CrPC, that he had been falsely implicated by Sub-Inspector Chand Singh on account of the prior dispute with regards to the purchase of a tractor. 

Court’s view on reverse burden of proof 

The court, while reiterating the general principle of criminal jurisprudence, that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, went on to express that Section 35 and Section 54 of the NDPS Act carries a reverse burden of proof. The burden of proof shifts to the accused right from the beginning, without requiring the prosecution to establish anything further. However, this presumption is rebuttable under Section 35(2) of the NDPS Act, which provides that the facts can be said to be proved when they have been established completely, without leaving any scope for doubts and in such situations, probability must be excluded entirely. Therefore, the case of the prosecution cannot be allowed merely on the basis of preponderance or balance of probability.

Reference to standing order 1 of 88 issued by the Narcotics Control Bureau

The court referred to Standing Order 1 of 88 issued by the Narcotics Control Bureau under clause 1.13, the opening line of which reads as “Mode and time limit for dispatch of sample to laboratory”. This states that the sample of the seized item must be sent, either by insured post or through any special messenger duly authorised for this purpose. The sample must be dispatched within 72 hours from the time of seizure, in order to avoid any kind of legal objection. In the present case, there was a delay that went beyond the period prescribed under the Standing Order.

Fair trial under Article 21

The court held that the accused is entitled to a fair trial, as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It was observed that this guarantee would become a hollow promise if the investigation under the cases relating to the NDPS Act is not done in a fair and transparent manner or if any kind of objection is raised prima facie regarding the fairness of the investigation. The prosecution, under that condition, is required to prove that the investigation had taken place in a fair and judicial manner and there was no instance that would lead to questioning of the veracity of the investigation. Therefore, a fair investigation and hence a fair trial, is of paramount importance, particularly in upholding Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Cases referred to pronounce the judgement of Mohanlal vs. State of Punjab (2018)

The Supreme Court of India while dealing with the issue regarding whether an informant can be the investigative officer took into consideration various preceding observations.

Noor Aga vs. State of Punjab (2008)

In this case, the Supreme Court of India considered the question of whether prejudice arises against the prosecution, if the informant has investigated the case. It was observed that such flaws have no significant impact on the overall outcome of the investigation. Apart from this, the duty of the prosecution with respect to reverse burden of proof, was noticed, and it was held that the initial burden does lie on the prosecution and once it is resolved, it shifts to the accused.

Babubhai vs. State of Gujarat (2010)

In this case, it was held by the Supreme Court of India, that the investigating officer must conduct the investigation of the offence without engaging into any objectionable conduct. It was observed that investigation of any criminal offence must be free from any kind of infirmities that may cause some grievance to the accused on the ground that the investigation was not fair, or it was conducted with some secret purpose. It was further held by the court that the investigation must be conducted in a manner by the investigative officer so that it must not cause any harassment or mischief to the accused. The investigating officer must be fair and conscious while conducting the investigation so that there should not be any scope for the fabrication of evidence.

State of Bihar vs. P.P. Sharma (1991)

In this case, it was observed by the Supreme Court of India, that before it could be inferred that the investigative officer has any kind of enmity against the accused, it must be proved before the court of law, that such investigating officer has not met the requirement of professionalism that is required for investigation. 

Megha Singh vs. State of Haryana (1996)

This case came under the ambit of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987. The police officer investigating the case was also the complainant. The Supreme Court of India observed that police officers in this case could not carry out further investigations of the case. This was because it would bring out certain disputes with respect to the accused as well as the suspect. The investigation might be challenged on the ground that the investigation is biased and unfair, because the complainant himself was the investigative officer.         

State rep. by Inspector of Police, Vigilance and Anti-Corruption, Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu vs. V. Jayapaul (2004)

In this case, it was observed by the Supreme Court of India, that the head constable was the investigating officer and also the complainant of the case. The question was raised to set aside the investigation on the ground that the investigating officer and the complainant of the case were the same person. The offence, in this case, was committed by the accused under Section 6(1) of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (intent to aid any terrorist or disruptionist) and Section 25 (manufactures, obtains, procures any arms or ammunition) of the Arms Act, 1959. The court in this case confirmed the conviction of the accused and held that such an investigation by the police officer could only be set aside on the grounds of bias or the likelihood of causing bias on the part of the investigating officer. The question relating to bias depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case.

Gannu vs. State of Punjab (2017)

In this case, the Punjab & Haryana High Court encountered the question of whether the complainant could be the investigative officer of the case. The court acquitted the accused and held, in line with the case of State of Himachal Pradesh vs. Atul Sharma (2015), that there would be a sheer violation of the principle of free and fair investigation if the complainant and the investigative officer were the same person.

Kader v. State of Kerala (2001)

In this case, the Kerala High Court was of the view that the police officer carrying out this duty and routine work, along with being the first complainant of crime under the NDPS Act, does not set back the prosecution’s proceeding against the accused. It was observed that apart from the usual cases under the CrPC, in cases dealing with the NDPS Act, the main duty of the investigating officer is to send the samples for chemical analysis and other routine procedures and that there exists no prejudice against the accused under normal circumstances. Therefore, the court was of the opinion that even though the police officer was conducting investigation under the NDPS Act, the investigation would not be held to be vitiated in the absence of proof of specific prejudice against the accused.

Final verdict

The court observed that clarifying the law is necessary in addressing the contradicting views on the constitutional right to a fair investigation under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Allowing this issue to be determined as per the circumstances of each case, leaves a potential for uncertainty and abuse of power. Therefore, it is established that a fair investigation, which is vital for a fair trial, requires the investigator and the informant to not be the same person. This would help guarantee impartiality and prevent preconceived determinations, particularly with respect to laws that exhibit a reverse burden of proof. Justice must not merely be carried out, but must appear to be carried out as well. 

The court concluded by allowing the appeal. The prosecution’s case was deemed invalid as a result of a violation of the right to a fair investigation, and the appellant was ordered to be released. 

Post the Mohanlal v. State of Punjab (2018) judgement, several decisions of the Supreme Court and the various High Courts, recognized the principle laid down in the same. Several accused persons availed an acquittal on the basis of this judgement.

In the case of Zandile Luthuli v. Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (2018), the accused was allegedly charged under Section 21(c) of the NDPS Act. The accused was allegedly involved in the possession of psychotropic substances in the commercial quantity, and hence committed the offence punishable under Section 21(c). The main contention of the petitioners in this case was that the investigative officer and the complainant were the same person. The counsel for the respondent contended that the legal proceeding is vitiated or loses its legal validity when the investigative officer is also the informant and not the complainant. However, in the present case, the investigative officer is the complainant. The Delhi High Court finally held that the Mohanlal judgement not only applies in a situation where the investigative officer is the informant, but also when the investigative officer is the complainant. As a result, the accused was acquitted and the proceeding against him was quashed.

Further, in Barega Bage vs. State of Jharkhand (2018), it was decided by the division bench of the Jharkhand High Court, that the accused was charged under Section 302 (murder) read with Section 34 (common intention) of the IPC. The learned counsel for the appellant contended that the investigative officer and the complainant were the same person and therefore, there arises prejudice against the appellant. Finally, after considering these facts, the court set aside the conviction order of the appellants.

There were several accused persons who were acquitted merely on the ground that the investigative officer and the informant/complainant were the same person. However, in some instances, the court took a stand beyond the principle laid down in the Mohanlal judgement.

In the case of Varinder Kumar vs. State of Himachal Pradesh (2019), the accused was charged under Section 20(b)(ii)(C) (punishment for contravention in relation to cannabis plant and cannabis, involved in commercial quantity) of the NDPS Act. The learned counsel for the appellant contended that the conviction of the accused is vitiated because the investigative officer and the informant were the same person. The Supreme Court of India disallowed any benefits of the Mohanlal judgement, stating that that judgement was given in order to remove the uncertainty and confusion which was dependent on the merits of the case. The trend of acquitting the accused merely on the basis of the Mohanlal judgement failed to stand.

In the present case, the court’s decision marks an important step towards securing the constitutional mandate as granted under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The court critically interpreted various provisions of the NDPS Act and its application under Article 21. It went on to conclude that the investigation should be fair, transparent, and free from any influence and bias. While analysing the role of informants and their intervention in further investigation, the court tried to strike a balance between the two and ultimately decided that if the informant and the investigator were the same person, there might arise a situation of bias which would lead to injustice.

This case upholds the principle of fairness, equity and constitutionalism in an era of evolving complex legal issues that might intervene with the personal liberty of an individual. Along with solving the complexity of the issue specific to the case, this judgement lays down the significance of investigations, its impact on the proceedings as well as the final decision of the court. Additionally, there exist loopholes in the present NDPS Act, which must be looked into, in order to prevent the complexities that may lead to delays in the litigation process. The judgement has not only impacted cases relating to drugs, etc., under the NDPS Act, but also serves as a vital precedent for the criminal justice system, highlighting the importance of procedural safeguards and the need for an accountable investigative procedure, in order to uphold justice. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which constitutional right was considered under Mohanlal vs. State of Punjab?

The present case emphasised the accused’s right to a free and fair investigation, as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

What were the flaws in the investigation which was performed by the investigative officer?

The investigative officer failed to deposit the seized narcotic item in the warehouse which is used to store the items that are seized and are suspected to be connected with a crime, apart from this there was a delay in sending the sample for chemical analysis which was not satisfactorily explained by the investigative officer.

What was the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law regarding investigation of cases?

The Supreme Court of India held that the investigation must not only be fair, but most importantly, it must also appear to be fair. Further, it was observed that the informant and the investigator must not be the same person.

What is the implication of the present case on future cases pertaining to criminal prosecution?

This case emphasised the importance of free and fair investigation, as it is a constitutional right. Moreover, the case highlighted the separation in the roles of an informant and an investigative officer, to avoid any kind of bias. 


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