The All-India Narcotics Conference, 1956

Abstract

It was in a picturesque setting that the All-India Narcotics Conference was held from 24 to 29 September 1956. Simla , the queen of hill stations in India, which is situated on the southern slopes of the Himalayas at an altitude of 7,000 feet, was chosen as the venue of this important meeting, which was to take momentous decisions on matters connected with the administration of narcotics in the country. It was attended by sixty delegates drawn from all parts of this vast subcontinent and representing practically every state of the Indian Union, the customs houses of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, and the Ministries of Health and Finance of the Union Government, including the Narcotics Commissioner's organization set up in pursuance of articles 11 and 12 of the International Convention of 1936. It was presided over by Shri S. D. Nargolwala, A.C.A., I.C.S., Joint Secretary to the Government of India, in the Ministry of Finance (Department of Revenue) who was India's delegate at the eleventh session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and was attended, amongst others, by Shri W. Saldanha, who was India's delegate at the earlier session of the same Commission during which he had also acted as the Commission's Rapporteur.

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Creation Date: 1957/01/01

The All-India Narcotics Conference, 1956

lnspecting Officer, Narcotics Intelligence Bureau and ex officio Conference Officer Shri Lachman Dev

It was in a picturesque setting that the All-India Narcotics Conference was held from 24 to 29 September 1956. Simla , the queen of hill stations in India, which is situated on the southern slopes of the Himalayas at an altitude of 7,000 feet, was chosen as the venue of this important meeting, which was to take momentous decisions on matters connected with the administration of narcotics in the country. It was attended by sixty delegates drawn from all parts of this vast subcontinent and representing practically every state of the Indian Union, the customs houses of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, and the Ministries of Health and Finance of the Union Government, including the Narcotics Commissioner's organization set up in pursuance of articles 11 and 12 of the International Convention of 1936. It was presided over by Shri S. D. Nargolwala, A.C.A., I.C.S., Joint Secretary to the Government of India, in the Ministry of Finance (Department of Revenue) who was India's delegate at the eleventh session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and was attended, amongst others, by Shri W. Saldanha, who was India's delegate at the earlier session of the same Commission during which he had also acted as the Commission's Rapporteur.

2. Prohibition of liquor and other intoxicants injurious to health is one of the directive principles of state policy. It was, however, given to the All-India Opium Conference, which met in Delhi on 3 August 1949, to lay down both a definite policy with regard to narcotic drugs and a phased programme for its implementation. It was a high-level conference presided over by no less a person than the Honourable Minister for Finance of the Government of India and attended by as many as twelve Ministers from the provinces of the Indian Union, besides a large number of high-ranking excise, customs, prohibition and health officers. It went at length into the question of administrative methods to be employed for the implementation of the policy of prohibition, which, as formally laid down in relation to opium, was that its consumption should be restricted to scientific and medical purposes. Although the excise revenues derived by the states from opium amounted to several crores (a crore is equal to ten million) of rupees, and these revenues were threatened with extinction, the All-India Opium Conference unanimously took the far-reaching decision of making a consistent annual cut of 10% in the supplies of opium made to the state governments for oral consumption. This decision has been relentlessly implemented by the Government of India since the financial year 1949/50, and has recently been reinforced by a declaration appended to the United Nations Opium Protocol of 1953, with the result that the quantities of opium allotted for issue to the states during the current financial year are a bare 30% of the quantities drawn by them before 1949/50. Some of the other decisions taken by this conference were

  1. That quasi-medical consumption of opium, even during the intervening period of ten years, should be severely restricted;

  2. That states of the Indian Union in which excessive consumption of opium prevailed should within the shortest possible period, and in any case before four years, take effective steps to bring down the per capita consumption of opium to a level not exceeding the League of Nations limit of 6 seers to every ten thousand of the population;

  3. That exports of opium for oral consumption and non-medical uses should be eliminated, subject only to existing commitments being honoured;

  4. That offences against the opium prohibition laws should be regarded as penal offences and not merely revenue offences; and

  5. That the recommendations made in the case of opium should apply, mutatis mutandis, to other narcotic drugs.

3. The aforesaid and other decisions of the All-India Opium Conference, 1949, were implemented by the Government of India and the state governments concerned. It was primarily with a view to taking stock of the whole situation, and tackling the problems which arose inevitably in consequence of the implementation of the policy laid down in 1949, that the idea of convening the All-India Narcotics Conference was conceived.

An agenda consisting of the following items was accordingly drawn up for discussion at the conference:

  1. De-addiction of addicts,

  2. Control of import, manufacture, distribution and use of narcotic drugs so as to prevent abuse for non-medical purposes,

  3. Prohibition of ganja and bhang (cannabis),

  4. Ways and means of stopping inter-state smuggling of narcotic drugs,

  5. Liaison between different departments engaged in suppression of illicit traffic,

  6. Uniform procedure regarding prosecution of cases relating to narcotics in courts of law,

  7. Reciprocity in the states in matters of search and arrest of offenders of narcotic laws,

  8. Vesting officers of the Narcotics Intelligence Bureau with powers under section 14 of the Opium Act, 1878,

  9. Uniformity in Reward Rules,

  10. Delayed submission of Permanent Central Opium Board Returns.

4. The Conference opened on 24 September 1956, at 12.15 p.m., in the Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Subha Hall (Legislative Assembly Chamber). Shri S. D. Nargolwala, I.C.S., welcomed the delegates and observed that the fact that the state governments should have spared so many of their senior officers at a time when the work of the reorganization of the states was making such heavy demands on their personnel resources was proof of the importance with which they viewed the task before the conference. He traced the history of the problem of narcotics in its international setting, and referred, in this context, to the nine international conventions which had been concluded in the last half-century, and to the special commission which meets and devotes four weeks each year to the examination of the working of these conventions, including the returns made to the Permanent Central Opium Board and the Drug Supervisory Body. He also explained the important role which India had played in the international fight against drug addiction, saying that while, until the beginning of this century, India had a flourishing trade in opium running into several crores of rupees, and production of opium amounted to hundreds of thousands of maunds, the production had now dropped to 15 to 20 thousand maunds and was determined almost entirely by the requirements of exports for medical and scientific purposes. Referring to the influence which Indian participation had exercised on the shaping of international policy, Shri Nargolwala said that India's pattern of national opium monopoly had always been looked upon in international circles as a model of its kind; that in framing the United Nations Opium Protocol of 1953, the Indian monopoly system had been incorporated into its provisions down almost to the last detail, and that the same system had been embodied in the draft Single Convention. The objective before the conference, he said, was twofold-namely, the prevention of the illicit use of narcotic drugs and the cure and rehabilitation of the addict. In relation to the former, he described the smuggling fraternity as a strongly entrenched vested interest with enormous resources in men, money and equipment. The strength of this adversary, he said, should be correctly estimated before we could expect to defeat him.

Shri Nargolwala also mentioned the two major evils which the withdrawal of opium from oral consumption had brought in its wake-a greater dependence on ganja and bhang (cannabis) and (what was a great deal more dangerous), resort to morphia, which he described as an evil beside which the evil of alcoholic drink paled into insignificance. Regarding ganja and bhang, he observed that though these drugs were not quite so deleterious in their effects as opium, they must sooner or later go the way opium had gone; and it had to be sooner rather than later, not only because international opinion was against the use of hemp drugs, but also because of the hostile feeling in our own country.

The chairman concluded his speech with an impassioned plea that each one of the delegates should be imbued with a sense of the urgency and importance of the task before him. Then, and only then, he felt, would the deliberations of the conference produce not merely resolutions expressed in elaborate wording, but precise and clear-cut programmes of work for each of the various organizations represented at the meeting.

5. On the very first day of its deliberations the conference set up the following four committees to go at length into the question of suppression of illicit traffic in opium and other drugs and of control of manufactured drugs.

  1. External Illicit Traffic Committee, consisting of police and excise officers of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, delegates from the Punjab, Rajasthan, Pepsu, and Assam, and the officers of Customs and the Central Revenues and Narcotics Intelligence Bureaus. This committee was constituted to go primarily into the illicit traffic at the port towns of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta and on the North-east frontier.

  2. Internal Illicit Traffic Committee on Opium, consisting of police and excise delegates from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Pepsu, Madhya Pradesh, Madhya Bharat, and officers of the Narcotics Intelligence Bureau.

  3. Internal Illicit Traffic Committee on Hemp Drugs (cannabis), consisting of police and excise officers of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Rajasthan, Assam, and the delegate from Mysore; and

  4. Committee on Manufactured Drugs, consisting of the police, excise and health officers of the states of Bombay, West Bengal, Punjab and Delhi, and officers of the Narcotics Department.

After a general discussion on item 1 of the agenda, relating to the cure of addicts, a fifth committee was also constituted on the following day to go into the medical aspects of the problem of treatment. This consisted of the directors of medical services in the states of Madras and Assam, Deputy Director of Health Services, Punjab, Principal of the S.C.B. Medical College, Cuttack (Orissa), and the Drugs Licensing Officer of the Government of West Bengal. These committees worked in the lobbies of the Vidhan Sabha Hall before, after and simultaneously with the plenary sessions of the conference. The reports presented by the committees on 27 September did not contain a single note of dissent.

6. The reports presented by the committees and the other items of the agenda which were not covered by the terms of reference of the five expert committees were discussed in the general conference, and as a result of these discussions, there emerged a number of resolutions and decisions setting out in considerable and precise detail the measures recommended by the conference. The principal recommendations contained in these "resolutions" and "decisions" are as follows:

  1. No opium will be legally available to the public for non-medical purposes through excise vendors' shops after 31 March 1959; opium will thereafter be treated as a drug to be used solely for medical and scientific purposes (resolution No. 1).

  2. Medical and other measures have been devised in detail for the weaning of opium addicts from the habit and for their treatment (resolution Nos. 2 and 3).

  3. Non-medical uses of ganja and bhang should be totally prohibited throughout the country by 31 March 1959 and 31 March 1961 respectively (resolution No. 5).

  4. Ganja should not be permitted to be used in any circumstances in the preparation of medicines; the examination of the possibility of excluding bhang from indigenous medicines should be included in the all-India investigation which it is understood is to be made for bringing about standardization of drugs and medicines prepared according to the Indian system of medicines (resolution No. 6).

  5. Detailed measures have been recommended regarding controls to be exercised at each stage of the distribution of manufactured drugs from the point of import or manufacture up to the point of their prescription by medical practitioners (resolution No. 7).

  6. Machinery has been set up to watch the implementation of the resolutions and decisions of the conference in order to ensure that they are properly, speedily and consistently implemented by the various central and state government agencies concerned (resolution No. 11).

  7. The state governments should frame suitable reward rules on a uniform pattern with due regard to the fact that the scale of rewards provided therein should be attractive enough to provide a real inducement to informers to come forward with useful information relating to narcotic offences and adequate amounts should be placed at the disposal of excise and police authorities concerned, as "Secret Service Fund" for purchase of information, payment of advances and other incidental expenses, etc. (resolution No. 8).

  8. A pamphlet setting out in detail the manner in which various statistics required by the Permanent Central Opium Board are to be compiled should be drawn up by the Narcotics Commissioner and furnished to the state governments, and the work of compilation and submission of these estimates and statistics should be entrusted by the state governments to a small specialized agency functioning at the headquarters of the state excise or other department concerned, so as to ensure their correct and timely submission (resolution No. 9).

  9. Several recommendations designed to improve the existing measures to check illicit traffic in narcotic raw material and manufactured drugs have been made (decisions A, B, C and D). These recommendations include, inter alia,

  1. The gradual stepping-up of the minimum qualifying yield prescribed by the Government of India for purposes of grant of licences for cultivation of opium, with a view to eliminating bad and undesirable cultivators;

  2. The setting up of experimental farms and warehouses for purposes of ascertaining the correct yield of opium;

  3. The restriction of cultivation to contiguous areas;

  4. Elimination of the element of speculative bidding for excise shops, which provides cover for clandestine sales;

  5. Constitution of zonal committees to co-ordinate anti-smuggling activities in relation to internal traffic, and the holding of quarterly meetings of such committees;

  6. Evolution of a proper system of control for cultivation and production of ganja in states in which these operations are still permitted;

  7. Gradual reduction in the supplies of ganja made available to licensed shops, with a view to achieving the target of complete elimination of ganja consumption by 31 March 1959;

  8. Fixation, on a zonal basis, of a uniform price level in respect of ganja, to guard against smuggling;

  9. Effective co-ordination of the anti-smuggling activities of the various agencies concerned with the suppression of the external illicit traffic in narcotics at the major port towns of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras.

  10. The holding of half-yearly meetings between the customs officers in charge of anti-smuggling operations at the various ports in India, and the officers of the Central Revenues and Narcotics Intelligence Bureau, for exchange of views and information on illicit traffic in narcotics;

  11. Intensification of preventive activity on the Land Customs borders in the country for prevention of smuggling;

  12. The setting up of intelligence bureaus in states in which they have not so far been established;

  13. The imparting of thorough training to officers responsible for investigation and prosecution of offences under the narcotic laws.

  14. The harnessing into service of the latest improvements in the methods of detection and investigation, such as trained dogs, etc.;

  15. The conclusion of reciprocal arrangements between the state governments with regard to the exercise in each other's jurisdiction of the powers of search, seizure, arrest and investigation under the State Excise Acts, Opium Act, 1878, and the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930, and investing officers of the Narcotics Intelligence Bureau with powers of entry, search, seizure and arrest to be exercised within the respective state jurisdiction;

  16. The necessity of securing greater deterrence in punishments awarded under the various laws relating to narcotics by amending the relevant provisions in the Acts concerned, so as to provide

    1. a minimum sentence of imprisonment for serious offences,

    2. enhanced punishment for a second and subsequent offence of a serious nature;

  17. The cancellation of motor-driving and arms licenses of persons convicted of offences under the narcotic laws;

  18. The taking of photographs and fingerprints of offenders involved in narcotic offences and publication of such photographs in criminal intelligence gazettes;

  19. The utilization of wireless facilities for the suppression of illicit traffic in narcotics;

  20. The opening of history sheets, by the Police Department, of notorious smugglers and ex-convicts, to enable proper surveillance of their activities to be exercised;

  21. The issue of a quarterly confidential bulletin containing information about the activities of the various agencies engaged in the suppression of illicit traffic, summaries of important cases detected, and such other particulars as would keep the various anti-smuggling agencies posted with the latest position regarding the nature and scale of illicit traffic in the country;

  22. The launching of combined operations against the smuggling fraternity by the various anti-smuggling agencies, in areas in which opium, ganja and bhang are produced and in areas which are notorious for illicit supply transit, storage and disposal of these drugs.

  1. 7. The conference concluded its deliberations on 29 September 1956, amidst feelings of satisfaction born of an honest endeavour made by everyone to make a success of the task allotted to it. It is as yet premature to judge how far the time and labour expended in the conference would be justified by actual results, but if the follow-up action is any indication of the earnestness which the deliberations of the conference inspired and of the general consciousness which it aroused with regard to the dangers of addiction, our international commitments and suppression of traffic, etc., it can certainly be said to have had a good start. The response from the states has been on the whole satisfactory, and the various agencies, both at the centre and in the states concerned with the administration of narcotics policy in the country, appear to be more keenly alive than ever to the issues involved, which were presented by the conference in their proper perspective.