No let-up in drug menace in Bangladesh

Govt drops plan to set up separate tribunals, 1.75 lakh cases pending

Mustafizur Rahman | Published: 01:01, Feb 11,2020 | Updated: 21:42, Feb 11,2020


The cabinet on Monday approved in principle a draft of the Narcotics Control (Amendment) Bill 2020 as the government backtracked on implementing a provision of the Narcotics Control Act 2018 that required creation of separate tribunals at the district level to deal with drug-related cases with speed and efficiency. 

The government decision came when the on-going drives against narcotics apparently failed to stop the menace of drug trade and drug abuse.

Launched in May 2018, the countrywide anti-drug drives have reportedly killed over 480 suspects so far, sparking criticism from rights groups. 

The security services division of the home affairs ministry placed the amendment bill at the weekly cabinet meeting chaired by prime minister Sheikh Hasina at her Tejgaon office against the backlog of a huge number of drug-related cases pending for disposal as smuggling of narcotics, particularly Yaba and Phensedyl from neighbouring countries, continued amid countrywide anti-drug drives.

‘The government could not set up separate tribunals in any district so far for ‘administrative reasons’ and shortage of judges, although the newly enacted narcotics control law required creation of separate tribunals to deal with drug-related cases came in force on December 10, 2018,’ secretary (coordination and reform) Sheikh Mujibur Rahman told a press briefing at the secretariat after the cabinet meeting.

He said that some 1.75 narcotic cases were pending for disposal across the country.

The secretary said that the cabinet endorsed the Narcotics Control (Amendment) Bill 2020 after inclusion of a provision for holding trials of drug-related cases in the competent courts designated by the district sessions judge and metropolitan sessions judge instead of tribunals.

He said that the draft proposed that the Section 44 be replaced alongside making necessary amendments to 22 sections out of 55 of the existing Narcotics Control Act, 2018.

The secretary said neither the tribunals were set up with the judicial officers holding the rank of additional district judge nor the additional district judge or sessions judge in a gazette notification was designated to dispose of drug-related cases in addition to their routine duties due to ‘administrative reasons.’ 

Another reason was that as per the existing law, an aggrieved person could file an appeal against the judgment of the tribunal before the High Court in case of being awarded with only six months imprisonment, he said, adding that according to the draft law the aggrieved person can file the appeal before the district judge court.

He said the cabinet also approved in principle a draft of Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation Bill 2020 with the aim to promote tourism industry in the country.

The anti-drug drives carried out for over one year and eight months had little impact on the drug scenario and the supply chain remains intact as demand for drugs continues to rise while treatment of addicts lies largely unaddressed in Bangladesh, according to officials and experts working on the issues.

Of different types of drugs, hemp, Yaba, Phensedyl and alcohol are the most  used substances by the addicts, Department of Narcotics Control officials said, adding that Yaba is smuggled in from Myanmar while Phensedyl make its way into Bangladesh from India.

Rapid Action Battalion began their nationwide anti-drug drive on May 4 and the police began the drive since May 18 at the direction of prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

On August 25, 2019 the High Court Division reproved the government for not creating tribunals under Section 44 of the Narcotic Control Act 2018 to try the accused in Yaba and other narcotics cases.

A bench of Justice M Enayetur Rahim and Justice Md Mostafizur Rahman also rebuked the secretaries of the ministries of home and law for their repeated failure to comply with several directives issued since July 8 asking them to submit separate reports whether or not additional district and sessions judges or metropolitan sessions judges were empowered to try persons accused in Yaba and the other narcotic cases until the tribunals were created.

The bench set a fresh deadline until October 13 to the two secretaries to comply with the standing directives while the 1st requires creating the tribunals while the 2nd requires empowering additional district judges or metropolitan sessions judges to hold the trials.

Until June 30, 2019, trials of at least 1,70,242 narcotics cases remained stalled in 64 district courts or metropolitan courts.

The High Court Division in a full verdict released on October 20 empowered the district judges and additional district judges to hold the trials in Yaba and other narcotics cases until the narcotics control tribunals are set up under the Narcotic Control Act 2018.

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