New Delhi, March 10: The Supreme Court has castigated investigating agencies for letting the big “sharks” involved in illegal liquor and drug trades go scot-free while focusing on catching the small fry.
“So long as the kingpins are not identified and brought to book, the purpose sought to be served by the law prescribing a deterrent punishment cannot be achieved,” the bench of Justices T.S. Thakur and S.J. Mukhopadhyay said.
“It is common knowledge that in matters of illegal trade, whether in liquor, drugs or other contrabands, the smaller fish only get caught while the sharks who flourish in such trade often go scot-free.”
The court made the observation while reducing to three years the five-year term awarded to a lorry driver, Rajamani, by Kerala High Court for transporting in his vehicle 218 plastic cans containing 33 litres of spirit each.
The apex court agreed that the quantity of the contraband was very large and ought to be a factor in determining the sentence.
“(But) what was equally important is whether the appellant (Rajamani) was the owner of the contraband or had any financial interest in its possession or transportation,” the judgment said.
“There is nothing on record to suggest that the appellant had any such interest. The investigating officer ought to have made an endeavour to identify those behind the purchase and transport of the contraband.”
Arrest and prosecution of “carriers” such as Rajamani “can hardly be enough to weed out illegal trade in liquor” and amounts to “mere lip service to the avowed purpose underlying the legislation”, the court said.
“No reason is forthcoming in the present case why no effort was made... to expose the racketeers without whose support and involvement such a big consignment of spirit could not have been purchased nor its transportation arranged.”
The trial court had sentenced Rajamani to seven years in jail and imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh. The high court reduced the term to five years but increased the fine to Rs 2 lakh, ruling that two years should be added to the jail term if Rajamani failed to pay the enhanced fine.
Upholding Rajamani’s appeal, the apex court reduced the jail term to three years and the fine to Rs 1 lakh. If he fails to pay the fine, a year should be added to the jail term, it said.