(1.)These Appeals and Special Leave Petitions arise by virtue of a reference order of a Division Bench of this Court reported as Tofan Singh v. State of Tamil Nadu (2013) 16 SCC 31. The facts in that appeal have been set out in that judgment in some detail, and need not be repeated by us. After hearing arguments from both sides, the Court recorded that the Appellant in Criminal Appeal No.152 of 2013 had challenged his conviction primarily on three grounds, as follows:
"24.1. The conviction is based solely on the purported confessional statement recorded under Section 67 of the NDPS Act which has no evidentiary value inasmuch as:
(a) The statement was given to and recorded by an officer who is to be treated as 'police officer' and is thus, hit by Section 25 of the Evidence Act.
(b) No such confessional statement could be recorded under Section 67 of the NDPS Act. This provision empowers to call for information and not to record such confessional statements. Thus, the statement recorded under this provision is akin to the statement under Section 161 CrPC.
(c) In any case, the said statement having been retracted, it could not have been the basis of conviction and could be used only to corroborate other evidence."
(2.)Under the caption 'Evidentiary value of statement under section 67 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, Act, 1985 ('NDPS Act')', the Court noted the decisions of Raj Kumar Karwal v. Union of India (1990) 2 SCC 409 and Kanhaiyalal v. Union of India (2008) 4 SCC 668, as also certain other judgments, most notably Abdul Rashid v. State of Bihar (2001) 9 SCC 578 and Noor Aga v. State of Punjab (2008) 16 SCC 417, and thereafter came to the conclusion that the NDPS Act, being a penal statute, is in contradistinction to the Customs Act, 1962 and the Central Excise Act, 1944, whose dominant object is to protect the revenue of the State, and that therefore, judgments rendered in the context of those Acts may not be apposite when considering the NDPS Act - see paragraph 33. After then considering a number of other judgments, the referral order states that a re-look into the ratio of Raj Kumar Karwal (supra) and Kanhaiyalal (supra) would be necessary, and has referred the matter to a larger Bench thus:
"41. For the aforesaid reasons, we are of the view that the matter needs to be referred to a larger Bench for reconsideration of the issue as to whether the officer investigating the matter under the NDPS Act would qualify as police officer or not.
42. In this context, the other related issue viz. whether the statement recorded by the investigating officer under Section 67 of the Act can be treated as confessional statement or not, even if the officer is not treated as police officer also needs to be referred to the larger Bench, inasmuch as it is intermixed with a facet of the 1st issue as to whether such a statement is to be treated as statement under Section 161 of the Code or it partakes the character of statement under Section 164 of the Code.
43. As far as this second related issue is concerned we would also like to point out that Mr Jain argued that the provisions of Section 67 of the Act cannot be interpreted in the manner in which the provisions of Section 108 of the Customs Act or Section 14 of the Excise Act had been interpreted by a number of judgments and there is a qualitative difference between the two sets of provisions. Insofar as Section 108 of the Customs Act is concerned, it gives power to the custom officer to summon persons 'to give evidence' and produce documents. Identical power is conferred upon the Central Excise Officer under Section 14 of the Act. However, the wording to Section 67 of the NDPS Act is altogether different. This difference has been pointed out by the Andhra Pradesh High Court in Shahid Khan v. Director of Revenue Intelligence [2001 Cri LJ 3183 (AP)]."
(3.)Shri Sushil Kumar Jain, learned Senior Advocate appearing for the Appellants in Criminal Appeal Nos. 152 of 2013; 836 of 2011; 433 of 2014; 77 of 2015 and 1202 of 2017, outlined six issues before us, which really boil down to two issues, namely:
"1. Whether an officer 'empowered under Section 42 of the NDPS Act' and/or 'the officer empowered under Section 53 of the NDPS Act' are 'Police Officers' and therefore statements recorded by such officers would be hit by Section 25 of the Evidence Act; and
2. What is the extent, nature, purpose and scope of the power conferred under Section 67 of the NDPS Act available to and exercisable by an officer under section 42 thereof, and whether power under Section 67 is a power to record confession capable of being used as substantive evidence to convict an accused?"