Between MHA And Finance Ministry, A Silent Battle Is Afoot For Control Of The NDPS Act

New Delhi : A silent tug of war is on between the Union finance and home ministries on who will take control of a powerful law – the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.

The home ministry, under Amit Shah, feels the control of the Act should be shifted to the Ministry of Home Affairs, while Nirmala Sitharaman’s finance ministry has been resisting on the grounds that the move that has not been “thought through”.

At present, while the Union home ministry governs the Narcotics Control Bureau, the Department of Revenue (DoR) in the finance ministry administers and makes policies under the NDPS Act.

With Shah wanting to increase the territorial jurisdiction of his ministry, the new proposal would effectively place the entire narcotics business in India within the ambit of his ministry. And that would include – besides anti-drug trafficking – giving licences for licit production of narcotics, processing opium at government factories and the import and export of these drugs. Production and processing of narcotics substances are largely seen as revenue generating activities and have therefore been within the ambit of the finance ministry.

However, there is a catch. While MHA wants the administration of the NDPS Act under its ambit, it does not want the package deal. The latter will include giving licences to over 70,000 farmers for opium cultivation or its production in its two factories – in other words, the Central Bureau of Narcotics and the Chief Controller of Factories, two departments which report to the Department of Revenue. The DoR says if the NDPS Act is to be administered by MHA, then it has to be done so in its entirety, including departments it is not keen on administering.

The NCB was carved out of the finance ministry and shifted to the home ministry in 2003 at the behest of yet another powerful home minister, L.K. Advani, who old timers point out, felt at that time that the home ministry needed some more heft.

Incidentally, in 2019, Godda MP Nishikant Dubey had written to the Prime Minister suggesting that another wing of the finance ministry, the Enforcement Directorate, be shifted to the home ministry. Among other reasons to justify the suggestion, he also said that the ministry is headed by Amit Shah “who is decisive, proactive and unbiased”. Dubey says he does not remember now what the response of the PMO was.

North Block sources have told The Wire that the department of revenue is digging in its heels and it feels that the proposal has not been “thought through in detail”. It instead suggests a committee be set up comprising officials from the home and finance ministries, to work out a mechanism.

The department of revenue feels that the proposal emanates from the impression that the NDPS Act is primarily a criminal law whereas the truth is it also deals with the manufacture, import and export of these substances and that transferring the entire NDPS Act will lead to problems. A better way would be to bring a new law sweeping the roles and responsibilities of the NCB under the NDPS Act, as was done for the National Investigation Agency through the National Investigation Agency Act, 2008, finance ministry officials feel.

Setting up a committee or proposing a new Act are time buying tactics, say officials who feel the Act should be with the MHA. They point out that the NCB was shifted to MHA in the first place at the recommendation of the Kargil Review Committee in 2003 “keeping in view the linkages of drug cartels and traffickers with terrorists as well as with the Pak ISI”.

They add that a CAG report of 2014 also says, “…[T]hat enforcement, management and coordination of NDPS Act, 1985 should be with one agency to avoid duplicity, dissonance and waste of precious resources”. Almost all the roles of the Narcotics Control Bureau and the Central Bureau of Narcotics overlap, the CAG report had said.

The Union home ministry has been pushing its case for a long time and a Cabinet note of 2017 quotes from a crisis management group’s observations that “all the above agencies should be brought under one Ministry i.e MHA…Currently this mandate is divided between different agencies like Central Bureau of Narcotics, Chief Controller of Factories and Narcotics Control Bureau under different Ministries i.e. MoF and MHA.”

Officials of the Union home and finance ministries refused to comment when reached by The Wire.

Former Finance Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg says, “It is important to separate the two. The revenue generation and production control of narcotics needs to be separated from trafficking and the consumption of drugs. If the government was to bring about a new law separating the two, it would be a more holistic approach and a better solution rather then the present situation,”

Another Act that is envisaged to be transferred to the MHA is the Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1988 which too is within the ambit of the finance ministry. The transfer is being considered under the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961.

Transferring administration of the NDPS Act and PITNDPS Act to the MHA will lead to a single command chain, North Block officials feel.

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