Peeved by his continued incarceration and denial of bail despite the drugs he was accused of possessing not even being tested by the laboratories that the Goa Police relies on, Nigerian national Michael Okafor has approached the Bombay High Court’s Goa bench, seeking to direct the state to operationalise the state’s forensic laboratory. It was set up back in 2013.
Agreeing with the petition, the Bombay High Court’s Goa bench has pulled up the Goa government for the “sorry state of affairs”, which it said affected “the rights of the accused persons to speedy trial, which is one of the facets of Article 21 of the Constitution of India”.
“The laboratory was to be operational in Goa in 2013. At present the laboratory can only test for ganja and charas. A majority of substances that are usually seized by the Goa police in narcotics raids include Ecstasy, LSD, MDMA and cocaine. They cannot be tested in the state and samples are sent to the CFSL Laboratory in Hyderabad and it takes more than a year to receive the report,” advocate K Poulekar, who argued the case for the Nigerian, said.
“Given these delays the trial takes four to five years to complete which is around half the sentence. And if they are acquitted after the trial, who will give them their life back?” Poulekar said.
Okafor was arrested on October 19 last year with substances suspected to be LSD of a quantity little less than one gram.
The high court took serious cognisance of the repeated delays in setting up the laboratory.
“It is quite unfortunate that though the NDPS Act came into force in 1985 and there are several prosecutions launched under this Act in the state of Goa, till date there are no proper facilities for testing the seized materials. As a result, the prosecutions are delayed, the suspects by default are released on bail, and then flee from justice.
“Thus the very operation of the NDPS Act is frustrated on account of non availability of proper facilities in the state of Goa itself. This is an extremely sorry state which should have been redressed by the authorities with greater sense of urgency and responsibility,” the High Court bench of Justices MS Sonak and MS Jawalkar said.
It is high time that some effective steps are taken by the state government to set up a full fledged laboratory in Goa itself, where such drugs and psychotropic substances can be tested within a reasonable period, the court said.
The High Court has also hinted that they delay in operationalising the lab could be deliberate in order to enable the accused persons to avail of ‘default bail’, citing the long delays in receiving lab reports.
“There is absolutely no explanation as to why since the establishment of the GFSL in 2013, no efforts were made to procure the standard samples all this time. There is no explanation as to why procurement of such standard samples which, we were informed would cost the state government an amount hardly Rs 25 lakh or thereabouts took so long and still taking so long. For the present at least, we would not like to accept that this delay is deliberate and for extraneous considerations. However, if such a position continues, further probes will become necessary,” the high court said.
The court directed the government to make the lab operational within a period of three months.