MUMBAI: The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has summoned three leading actors — Deepika Padukone, Shraddha Kapoor and Sara Ali Khan — as part of its widening probe into the alleged use of drugs by celebrities.

The central agency is probing two cases: one on the alleged involvement of actor Rhea Chakraborty in procuring and financing drugs for her boyfriend Sushant Singh Rajput and the second on alleged prevalence of drug use in Bollywood. The first case originated after the Enforcement Directorate shared Rhea’s WhatsApp chats with the NCB and the second was registered following the probe in the first.

In the second case, officials have claimed that Sushant’s talent manager Jaya Saha disclosed during questioning that she would arrange CBD oil, extracted from a cannabis plant and used for medicinal purposes, for Shraddha, Sushant, Rhea, film producer Madhu Mantena and for herself.

As for Deepika, NCB wants to probe WhatsApp messages exchanged with her manager, allegedly on the subject of drugs. Deepika and her manager Karishma Prakash have been asked to appear on Friday while Sara and Shraddha have been summoned on Saturday.

Outlining their reasons for issuing summons to the actors, NCB officials claimed that some drug peddlers, during their custodial interrogation, said Shraddha Kapoor and Sara Ali Khan were in touch with them. “Anuj Keshwani, a key supplier, was in contact with Shraddha and Sara and claimed to have supplied weed to them. We want to know if they procured it for themselves or someone else,” an official said. Rhea has also mentioned their names, the official claimed.

A lawyer specialising in cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, however, questioned the basis of the NCB probe against celebrities, especially since no narcotics or psychotropic substances as defined under the NDPS Act have been seized from them. “The seizure of narcotics or psychotropic substance is the primary evidence or the essence of the case against these celebrities. Even if they have to probe the CBD oil procurement, where is the seizure? WhatsApp chats can be used only as corroborative or supplementary evidence if at all the court appreciates it. It is not primary evidence,” he said.

The procurement and use of CBD or cannabido oil, for which some summons have been issued, is generally in the treatment of ailments, including anxiety, depression, heartaches, joint paints, muscle spasms and insomnia. The product can be purchased on e-commerce platforms. CBD products extracted from hemp are legal to buy and use in India provided the products have THC content lower than 0.3%. Anything higher is classified as a cannabis product. But online sites do not mention the THC content. There is a controversy associated with it because THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the high, officials said.

NCB has lined up a series of interrogations over the next three days in Mumbai. On Thursday, among those asked to report to the NCB office are actor Sushant Singh’s former manager Shruti Modi, fashion designer Simone Khambatta and actor Rakul Preet Singh. On Friday, it will be Deepika Padukone and her manager’s turn, followed by Sara and Shraddha on Saturday.

On Wednesday, NCB recorded the statement of Madhu Mantena, producer of the movie “Udta Punjab”, based on drug abuse and trafficking in Punjab, and carried out searches at the homes of two television actors — Sonam Johar and Abigail Pande. The duo has also been summoned for questioning based on information provided by Keshwani. Officials said they are also examining a video, which shows some Bollywood celebrities sniffing what appear to be contraband at a party.

Lawyers dealing with drug cases, however, questioned the evidentiary value of the material gathered so far by the investigators. Advocate Ayaz Khan said, “Some chats are from 2017. How are they going to connect the chats to the 59 grams of ganja seized from drug peddlers? Will they book anyone who bought drugs 10 years ago?” He said, “ The Supreme Court has clarified that only the statement of a co-accused cannot be sufficient to convict someone. Only Rhea’s statement to the NCB will not have any value in a court of law.”

“It appears that all these actors have been summoned on the basis of WhatsApp chats between these stars and Jaya Saha and others. Now based on that, they are within their rights to summon a particular person if the name has come up, but in respect of a transaction which has taken place in 2017 it is going to be very difficult for NCB to prove their case. If the placement of the drugs, receipts of the drugs and delivery of the peddler to the star and consumption by the star does not come on record, they will not be able to charge them for consumption,” said advocate Rizwan Merchant.

“In the absence of this material, if they are trying to get the statements of these stars under Sections 67 of Evidence Act, I don’t think that it will stand in the court of law. If these stars go and deny, then the NCB has nothing. And if they admit, than at best the NCB will be able to make out a case of consumption, which is a bailable offence,” he added.

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