In a highly uncommon ruling, a special narcotics court in Mumbai sentenced to death a resident of Kashmir convicted twice, for drug trafficking.
Ghulam Malik was found guilty in two different cases of handling narcotics. Under stringent provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, a second conviction is punishable only with a mandatory death sentence.
Judge P B Sawant, who sentenced Malik to death, was emotional after the sentencing. "In my 29 years in the profession and past ten years as a judicial officer I had given no capital punishment, but duty is duty and today I have performed it."
However, a legal expert says the order could be questioned as the NDPS Act essentially raises the penalty if a man is caught dealing in drugs a second time round.
The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) had seized a truck loaded with 142 kg of hashish in Ahmedabad in January 2002. Documents found in the truck indicated that 55 kg of the contraband was destined for Mumbai where it was to be delivered to Malik.
On January 14, 2002, officials from the Mumbai unit of NCB tracked Malik to his Dongri residence . Here , they found another 1.8 kg of hashish. Malik in his interrogation said he had stored more hashish in a go-down in Andheri. Raids on the go-down unearthed another 188 kg of hashish. This resulted in him being booked in a second case.
Malik was first convicted in March 2004 by a fast track court in Gujarat and sentenced to 10 years RI. Then, on December 18, 2007, judge Sawant found Malik guilty in the case against him in Mumbai for the seizures made from the go-down.
Special public prosecutor Arun Gupte then invoked article 31-A of the NDPS Act which says that a second conviction is punishable only with a death sentence.
Yet advocate Ayaz Khan says article 31-A requires some reinterpretation to understand the spirit behind it. "In Malik's case both convictions have come as a result of a single drug transaction whereas the purpose of the mandatory death sentence clause is to deter convicts from breaking the law again and again," said Khan. These questions will now be pondered over by the high court when it examines the death sentence handed out by judge Sawant.