The Death Penalty Debate in India – Recent Summary of Events

September 2012

On 3 June 2012, President Pratibha Patil granted clemency to more than 30 prisoners on death row. This led to a call for greater transparency in the clemency procedures. Later that month, Law and Justice Minister Salman Khurshid said that he is personally in favour of the abolition of the DP.[i]

In August, following numerous reports of a number of wrongfully imposed death sentences, one former Supreme Court judge and 13 former High Court judges from across the country appealed to the newly-elected President Pranab Mukherjee to commute the death sentences. Frontline reported on this, publishing the names of the 13 people erroneously sentenced to death, eight of whom remain on death row. “The judgments, according to the Supreme Court’s own admission, rendered per incuriam [ignorance] constituted the gravest known miscarriages of justice in the history of crime and punishment in India[ii]. Theformer judges also informed the President of the wrongful executions of Ravji Rao and Surja Ram in 1996 and 1997.[iii] In an interview with The Times of India, former chief justice of the Delhi High Court A P Shah explained that “the Supreme Court’s admission of error came too late for them”.[iv]

Former Chief Justice A P Shah noted that “India should join such [abolitionist] nations as there is enough reason to believe that the legal safeguards aimed at avoiding a miscarriage of capital punishment have failed to deliver. Public opinion in India can no longer ignore the global movement in favour of abolition of the death penalty”.[v]

Most recently, on 29 August, the Supreme Court upheld Ajmal Kasab’s death sentence. Kasab is the sole surviving gunman of the 26 November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, which killed 166 people. This led to renewed debate about the death penalty, with political parties calling for Kasab’s early execution. On 18 September, it was reported that Kasab has filed a mercy petition to the President. A total of 12 mercy petitions are currently pending before President Pranab Mukherjee.

There are a number of concerns around the application of the death penalty in India, including the use of special courts and the use of torture to extract ‘confessions’. ADPAN has released two major reports, including one appeal case on India summarising these concerns.

Executions in India fell drastically after the 1982 landmark verdict in Bachchan Singh vs State of Punjab following the decision to execute only the “rarest or rare cases”.

India has not executed anyone since 2004 but death sentences are still regularly imposed. The resumption of executions after eight years would be a major step backwards placing India against a regional and global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. More than two thirds of all countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. Out of 41 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, 17 have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, 10 are abolitionist in practice and one – Fiji – uses the death penalty only for exceptional military crimes.






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