An Overview : Narcotics Control Bureau

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The National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances is based on the Directive Principles, contained in Article 47 of the Indian Constitution, which direct the State to endeavor to bring about prohibition of the consumption, except for medicinal purposes, of intoxicating drugs injurious to health. The government’s policy on the subject which flows from this constitutional provision is also guided by the international conventions.

India is a signatory to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol, the Conventions on Psychotropic Substances, 1971, and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988.

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Three Broad Policies of the Central Act

The broad legislative policy is contained in the three Central Acts, viz. Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, and The Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1988. The responsibility of drug abuse control, which is a central function, is carried out through a number of Ministries, Departments and Organisations. These include the Ministry of Finance, the Department of Revenue which has the nodal coordination role as administrator of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, and the Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1988.

  • The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 which came into effect on the 14th of November 1985 made an express provision for constituting a Central Authority for the purpose of exercising the powers and functions of the Central Government under the Act.
  • In presence of this provision, the Government of India constituted the NARCOTICS CONTROL BUREAU on the 17th of March, 1986. The Bureau, subject to the supervision and control of the Central Government, is to exercise the powers and functions of the Central Government for taking measures with respect to:
  • Coordination of actions by various offices, State Governments and other authorities under the N.D.P.S. Act, Customs Act, Drugs and Cosmetics Act, and any other law for the time being in force in connection with the enforcement provisions of the NDPS Act, 1985.
  • Implementation of the obligation in respect of countermeasures against illicit traffic under the various international conventions and protocols that are in force at present or which may be ratified or acceded to by India in the future.
  • Assistance to concerned authorities in foreign countries and concerned international organizations to facilitate coordination and universal action for prevention and suppression of illicit traffic in these drugs and substances.
  • Coordination of actions taken by the other concerned Ministries, Departments and Organizations in respect of matters relating to drug abuse.

The Narcotics Control Bureau is the apex coordinating agency. It also functions as an enforcement agency through its zones and sun-zones. Zones are located at Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Chennai, Delhi, Guwahati, Indore, Jammu, Jodhpur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, and Patna. Sub-zones are located at Ajmer, Amritsar, Bhubaneswar, Dehradun, Goa, Hyderabad, Imphal, Mandsaur, Madurai, Mandi, Raipur, Ranchi, and Kochi. The zones and subzones collect and analyze data related to seizures of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, study trends, modus operandi, collect and disseminate intelligence and work in close cooperation with the Customs, State Police and other law enforcement agencies.

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Primary functions of NCB

The chief purpose of the Narcotics Control Bureau is to fight drug trafficking on an all-India level. It works in close cooperation with the Customs and Central Excise/GST, State Police Department, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB) and other Indian intelligence and law enforcement agencies both at the national and states level. The NCB also provides resources and training to the personnel of India's Drug Law Enforcement Agencies in fighting drug trafficking. The NCB also monitors India's frontiers to track down points where smuggling activities take place with foreign traffickers.

Secondary functions of NCB

  • Coordination among various Central and State Agencies engaged in drug law enforcement;
  • Assisting States in enhancing their drug law enforcement effort;
  • Collection and dissemination of intelligence;
  • Analysis of seizure data, study of trends and modus operandi;
  • Preparation of National Drug Enforcement Statistics;
  • Liaison with International agencies such as UNDCP, INCB, INTERPOL, Customs Cooperation Council, RILO etc;
  • National contact point for intelligence and investigations.

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The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985 (NDPS Act) sets out the statutory framework for drug law enforcement in India. This Act consolidates the erstwhile principal Acts, viz. the Opium Act 1857, the Opium Act 1878 and the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930. The NDPS Act also incorporates provisions designed to implement India's obligations under various International Conventions. Certain significant amendments were made in the Act in 1989 to provide for the forfeiture of property derived from drug trafficking and for control over chemicals and substances used in the manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. In order to give effect to the statutory provisions relating to these substances, an order, namely the N.D.P.S. (Regulation of Controlled Substances) Order, was promulgated by the Government of India in 1993 to control, regulate and monitor the manufacture, distribution, import, export, transportation etc of any substance which the Government may declare to be a 'controlled substance' under the Act. The statutory regime in India consequently covers drug trafficking, drug related assets as well as substances which can be used, in the manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Some further amendments were incorporated in the NDPS Act in 2001, mainly to introduce a graded punishment.

The primary counter narcotics focus areas in India includes:-

  • Surveillance and enforcement at import points and land borders.
  • Preventive and interdiction efforts along the known drug routes.
  • Control measures at export points, such as air-passenger terminals, cargo terminals and foreign post offices.
  • Improved coordination between the various drug law enforcement agencies.
  • Identification and eradication of illicit cultivation and the wild growth of cannabis and the opium poppy.
  • Strengthening of the intelligence apparatus to improve the collection, collation, analysis and dissemination of operational intelligence.
  • Increased international cooperation, both in operational and long-term intelligence as well as in investigations and mutual legal assistance.

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Precursor Control In India

Chemicals frequently used in the manufacture of illicit narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances are referred to as precursors. These chemicals have a large number of legitimate uses and a small fraction of the total production is sufficient to meet the requirements of the illicit drug industry. The UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988 (1988 Convention for short) identifies the following 23 precursors as the chemicals which need to be controlled.

Psychotropic Substances As Per UN Convention

  1. Acetic Anhydride
  2. Acetone
  3. Potassium permanganate
  4. Anthranilic acid
  5. N -acetylanthranilic acid
  6. Ethyl ether
  7. Ephedrine 
  8. Hydrochloric acid
  9. Ergometrine
  10. Methyl ethyl ketone
  11. Ergotamine
  12. Piperidine
  13. Isosafrole
  14. Sulphuric acid
  15. Lysergic acid
  16. Toluene
  17. 3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl-2-propanone
  18. 1-phenyl-2-propanone
  19. Piperonal
  20. Pseudoephedrine
  21. Safrole
  22. Phenylacetic acid
  23. Norephedrine

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How precursors are controlled in India?

In India, precursors are controlled under three different Acts and by three different agencies as follows: 

Controls under the NDPS (Regulation of Controlled Substances) Order, 1993: 

This order issued under Section 9A of the NDPS Act,1985 requires manufacturers, distributors, sellers, importers, exporters, and consumers of specified controlled substances to maintain records and file quarterly returns with the Narcotics Control Bureau. Precursors covered: Acetic anhydride, N-acetyl anthranilic acid, Ephedrine and Pseudoephedrine, and Anthranilic acid.

Controls imposed under the EXIM policy: 

The export-import policy framed under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992 imposes restrictions on the import and export of goods. Export of seven precursors is subject to a “No Objection Certificate” and import of three precursors is restricted. Export of Acetic anhydride, Ephedrine, Pseudoephedrine, Methyl ethyl ketone, 1-Phenyl- 2-Propanone, 3,4 methylenedioxyphenyl-2-propanone and Potassium permanganate require a “No Objection Certificate” from the Narcotics Commissioner. The import of acetic anhydride, ergometrine, ergotamine and piperonal also require a “No Objection Certificate” from the Narcotics Commissioner. 

Controls under Section 11 of the Customs Act 1962:

The goods specified under this section are subject to intensive checks in the specified areas by the Customs officers. Acetic anhydride has been notified as a specified substance under this section within an area of 100 km. along the Indo – Myanmar border and 50 km. along the Indo-Pak border by the Government of India. Broadly, the special measures under this section require all persons who own, possess, or transport acetic anhydride to maintain records and notify the Customs officers of the details of quantities held and transported. 

The Central Government, in the exercise of powers conferred by Section 9 (A) of NDPS Act 1985, issued an order called The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Regulation of Controlled Substances Order 1993) which came into 15th April 93. This order stipulates various procedures with regards to specified substances declared to be controlled.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Regulation of Controlled Substances Order 1993)

  • Every person who manufactures or distributes or sells or imports or exports or consumes any controlled substance shall maintain a daily account of activities in form I or II and this record of his activity shall be preserved for a period of two years.
  • The person dealing with controlled substances shall report to Director General, Narcotics Control Bureau, immediately regarding any loss or disappearance of any controlled substance under his control.
  • Any consignment of controlled substance shall be moved from one place to another only when it is accompanied by a consignment note in the prescribed format (Form-3) and the consignor shall make necessary entries on the triplicate copy of the consignment with reference to the receipt of controlled substance. A quarterly return or such movements shall be sent by registered post in Form –IV or V to the concerned Dy. Director, NCB.
  • Any consignment of an imported controlled substance shall be accompanied by a bill of entry from the port of entry to the warehouse or establishment of importer. This consignment note / bill of entry shall be preserved for a period of two years by the consignor or consignee by importer or purchaser.
  • No transporter shall carry a consignment of controlled substance without a consignment note or bill of entry. He should produce the same when required by any official empowered in this regard.
  • Every sale of 100 kg or more shall be made by a seller only after establishing the identity of the buyer.
  • Upon the declaration made for the purpose for which controlled substance is being purchased. Every container/vessel containing a controlled substance in a consignment for export / import shall be labeled prominently, giving the details of name and quantity of controlled substance with the name and address of exporter and importer and consignee.
  • The documents relating to import / export of any controlled substance shall be preserved for a period of two years.
  • Schools, colleges, universities, government or autonomous institutions, registered scientific societies and hospitals using any controlled substance for educational, scientific and analytical purposes are exempted from maintaining records as prescribed under clause 3 and sending returns as prescribed under this clause. They shall however comply with other provisions of this Order.
  • Section 25 A of the NDPS Act, 1985 provides punishment for any contravention of the Order made under section 9 A. An offender is liable for rigorous imprisonment, which may be extended to 10 years, and fine, which may extend to one lakh rupees. The court may impose a fine exceeding one lakh rupees after recording the reasons therefore.

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Agencies Empowered Under The NDPS Act

Power of entry, search, seizure, and arrest without warrant -

Any officer (being an officer superior in rank to a peon, sepoy or constable) of the departments of central excise, narcotics, customs, revenue intelligence or any other department of the Central Government, including para-military forces or armed forces as is empowered in this behalf by general or special order by the Central Government, or any officer (being an officer superior in rank to a peon, sepoy or constable) of the revenue, drugs control, excise, police or any other department of a State Government as is empowered in this behalf by general or special order of the State Government, if he has reason to believe from personal knowledge or information given by any person and taken down in writing that any narcotic drug, or psychotropic substance, or controlled substance in respect of which and offence punishable under this Act has been committed or any document or other article which may furnish evidence of the commission of such offence or any illegally acquired property or any document or other article which may furnish evidence of holding any illegally acquired property which is liable for seizure or freezing or forfeiture under Chapter V-A of this Act is kept or concealed in any building, conveyance or enclosed place, may between sunrise and sunset. 

Enter into and search any such building, conveyance or place;

  1.  In case of resistance, break open any door and remove any obstacle to such entry;
  2. Seize such drug or substance and all materials used in the manufacture thereof and any other article and any animal or conveyance which he has reason to believe to be liable to confiscation under this Act and any document or other article which he has reason to believe may furnish evidence of holding any illegally acquired property which is liable for seizure or freezing or forfeiture under Chapter V-A of this Act; and
  3.  Detain and search, and if he thinks proper, arrest and person whom he has reason to believe to have committed any offense punishable under this Act. Provided that if such officer has reason to believe that a search warrant or authorization cannot be obtained without affording opportunity for the concealment of evidence or facility for the escape of an offender, he may enter and search such building, conveyance or enclosed place at any time between sunset and sunrise after recording the grounds of his belief.

Where an officer takes down any information in writing under sub-section (1) or records grounds for his belief under the proviso, he shall within seventy-two hours send a copy thereof to his immediate official superior. Recently, The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has arrested the country’s first ‘darknet’ narcotics operative under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.

Darknet refers to the hidden internet platform used for narcotics sale, exchange of pornographic content, and other illegal activities by using the secret alleys of the onion router (ToR- free and open-source software for enabling anonymous communication) to stay away from the surveillance of law enforcement agencies. It is tough to crack because of its end-to-end encryption. The payment gateways of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoins and Litecoin were used by the operators to conceal the transactions from regulatory agencies. The NCB was part of a global ‘Operation Trance’, launched in December 2019, which is a joint intelligence-gathering action on international postal, express mail, and courier shipments containing psychotropic drugs (which can only be purchased on a doctor’s prescription) that are abused as sedatives and painkillers.


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