INDIA. Mumbai. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) probing the drug angle in actor Sushant Singh Rajput death case, by now has interrogated over a dozen people, including actress Rhea Chakraborty.
The probe is mainly based on alleged Whatsapp chats dating back to 2017.
The Information Technology Act added Section 65A & Section 65B in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. “Section 65A lays down the contents of electronic records that may be proved with the provisions laid in Section 65B. Section 65B (Admissibility of electronic records) states that any information contained in electronic records which are printed on a paper, stored, recorded, or copied in optical or magnetic media produced by a computer shall also be deemed a document if the conditions mentioned in this section are satisfied in relation to the information and computer in question and shall be admissible in any proceedings, without any further proof or production of the original. Before accepting digital evidence a court will determine if the evidence is relevant, whether it is authentic if it is hearsay and whether a copy is acceptable or the original is required.”
Sushant (34) was found dead allegedly after committing suicide at his residence in Bandra, Mumbai on June 14, this year. According to media report (Marathi daily “Saamna), the AIIMS team led by Dr Sudhir Gupta, has submitted its report to CBI which states that there are no indications to show that Sushant was poisoned. However, the report has not been made public yet. The CBI is probing other angles in the incident, jointly with the Enforcement Directorate, to find out if there was a foul play in the demise of Sushant.
Those whose statements have been recorded by the NCB include actresses Deepika Padukone, Shraddha Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan, Rakul Preet Singh, Deepika’s former manager Karishma Prakash, former Dharma Production Executive Producer Kshitij Prasad Ravi, Producer Madhu Mantena Varma, Kwan Talent Management Agency CEO Dhruv Chitgopekar, Sushant’s Talent Manager Jaya Saha and his former Manager Shruti Modi.
Those arrested include Rhea, her brother Showik, Sushant’s former House Manager Samual Miranda, his cook Dipesh Sawant, drug peddlers- Kaizan Ebrahim aka Jaison, Anuj Keshwani, Karamjeet Singh alias KJ, Sanket Patel, Sandeep Gupta, Aftab Fateh Ansari, Dwayne Anthony Fernandes, Ankush Arenja, Suryadeep Malhotra, Zaid Vilatra, Abdul
Basit Parihar and Chris Costa (of Goa). While the judicial custody of Rhea and Showik has been extended till October 6, Kshitij has been remanded to judicial custody till October 3.
However, advocate Satish Maneshinde representing Rhea and others has made serious allegations that the NCB sleuths are trying to falsely implicate Bollywood personalities including Karan Johar.
“It can be seen from the remand application and the statement of Kshitij Prasad that NCB is bent upon falsely implicating Karan Johar or some top officers of Dharma Productions”, Advocate Satish Maneshinde stated in a WhatsApp message dated 27 September 2020.
In response to the summons by NCB, Kshitij who was in Delhi reached Mumbai on Sept. 25. During the search of his residence located at Andheri in North West Mumbai, the NCB officers found a cigarette butt. But they insisted that it was ganja (marijuana) and drew a panchnama (a record of witness testimony) to that effect despite protest from Kshitij.
Allegations by Defence
“During his interrogation, NCB sleuths asked Kshitij to admit on the record that film personalities including Karan Johar, Somel Mishra, Rakhi, Apoorva, Neeraj, and Rahil of Dharma Productions have been consuming drugs. When he refused, he was harassed and blackmailed to make a statement apart from third-degree and ill-treatment by NCB officers,” Advocate Satish Maneshinde told the Transcontinental Times.
In response, NCB Director K P S Malhotra refuted the allegations and told the Transcontinental Times, “The credible court order issued while remanding Kshitij to judicial custody, mentions that ‘No physical ill-treatment was given to him’ and the inquiries were made on as per the procedure.”
But the order dated Sept. 27 issued by Metropolitan Magistrate V J Dongre of Holiday Remand Court, Esplanade, Mumbai, mentions that “According to him (Kshitij) his statement recorded by the investigating officer is against his free consent. However, he has no complaint about physical ill-treatment.” Rhea has already claimed that her statement was obtained under duress. Others too are expected to follow the suit.
During their interrogation, Deepika Padukone, Shraddha Kapoor, and Sara Ali Khan reportedly maintained that they never consumed drugs and according to their knowledge Sushant was consuming drugs. In further investigation, they will need to prove that they were not involved in drug procurement.
The law does not prescribe any procedure for determining what constitutes ‘consumption,’ although carrying a drug even for medicinal purposes, without a valid prescription can lead to one’s arrest. Also, the people are arrested for cannabis consumption, even though most of the drugs seized are not cannabis-based.
As of now, no drugs have been seized from any of the Bollywood personalities, although the drugs in small quantities have been seized from the peddlers who have claimed that they have been supplying drugs to the people from film fraternity.
Cell Phones Seized
The NCB has seized the cell phones of the actresses interrogated and is probing the case based on WhatsApp chat, as per section 65 (B) of the Information Technology Act 2000. However, its investigation is based only on confessional statements under section 67 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985 (amended in 2014).
As per section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 (as amended in March 2020), a confession made by an accused person is irrelevant in a criminal proceeding, if the making of the confession appears to the court to have been caused by any inducement, threat or promise. Besides, there is no express provision in the NDPS Act to record statements and section 67 of the act trumps the fundamental right against self-incrimination guaranteed in Article 20(3) of the Constitution.
Section 27 of the NDPS Act, makes consumption of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance, punishable with imprisonment up to a year. Besides, manufacturing, selling, purchasing, transporting, and possession of a commercial quantity of psychotropic substances can attract a minimum of 10 years of rigorous imprisonment which may extend up to 20 years. Convicts are also liable to pay a fine between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh.
The quantity of drugs ranges from two grams (small quantity) to 50 kg (commercial quantity) depending upon the type of drugs. In the case of heroin, any amount less than 5 grams is considered ‘small quantity,’ and any amount higher than 250 grams is considered ‘commercial quantity.’
It is doubtful whether the drug case can be pursued based merely on confessional statements and circumstantial evidence. Besides an outcome of the inquiries by the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) into the allegation that Rhea abetted Sushant’s suicide and also embezzled his money is still awaited.