Supreme Court: Presumption of culpability against accused rebuttable, does not sanction conviction on preponderance of probability

    The Supreme Court held that the presumption of culpability against an accused in a case under the NDPS Act is rebuttable and that it does not dispense with the requirement of the prosecution proving the case beyond reasonable doubt (Gangadhar alias Gangaram v. State of Madhya Pradesh).

    A Bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and Navin Sinha held that in a case under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act), the presumption of culpability against an accused under Sections 35 and 54 of the Act are rebuttable.

    The accused filed an appeal in Supreme Court assailing his conviction under Section 8C read with Section 20(b)(ii)(c) of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 for recovery of 48kg 100gm of cannabis or ganja, sentencing him for 10 years of rigorous imprisonment. The appellate was held to be the owner of the house from where cannabis was recovered relying on the voter list of 2008 his defence was discarded that he sold the house to Gokul Dangi. Gokul Dangi has been acquitted on trial.

    The council on behalf of the appellant argued that mere assumption of ownership of the house, without any finding of conscious possession was unsustainable, and that his client should be released.

    While the NDPS Act does provide for a reversed burden of proof, the same cannot sanction the conviction for an accused on the basis of preponderance of probability, the Court held.

    The stringency of the provision calls for stronger scrutiny, the Court has said,

    “The presumption against the accused of culpability under Section 35, and under Section 54 of the Act to explain possession satisfactorily, are rebuttable. It does not dispense with the obligation of the prosecution to prove the charge beyond all reasonable doubt. The presumptive provision with reverse burden of proof, does not sanction conviction on basis of preponderance of probability.”

    The NDPS Act is a stringent legislation which provides for strict punishment. In a case under Section 37 of the Act, the prescribed punishment is for a sentence of 10 years without remission. The stringency of the provision calls for stronger scrutiny, the Court has said.

    It was held by the Court that not only did the prosecution fail in establishing a prima facie case against the appellant, but there was also a “gross misappreciation” of evidence by the Courts below.