On October 10th, we recognize the "International Day against the Death Penalty."
Capital punishment, which is a legal death penalty, is used in India only for
the most serious crimes. The authority to confirm death sentences in India lies
with the High Courts, as stated in Section 368 of the Criminal Procedure Code,
1973. This ensures a thorough review process for such grave decisions.
Executions are carried out by hanging by the neck until death as the primary
method of execution as noted under Section 354(5) of the Code of Criminal
Procedure, 1973, and is awarded only in the 'rarest of cases'.
Death row prisoners are individuals who find themselves facing the gravest of
legal consequences - execution - due to convictions for especially heinous
crimes in regions where the death penalty remains a legal recourse. These
prisoners inhabit a realm of uncertainty, awaiting the finality of their fate
while navigating a complex web of legal processes and appeals. The sentencing
phase, a pivotal moment in their journey, often involves meticulous
deliberations, where courts decide whether the ultimate punishment of death is
warranted based on the nature of the crime.
Even in 2022, the death penalty remains a legal punishment in 80 countries. In
some of these nations, people are executed for opposing authoritarian
governments and standing up for their basic rights. In these places, the death
penalty is also used as a means to scare and silence individuals. There are
still 55 countries worldwide that continue to enforce the death penalty. But
each year, this number diminishes. The representatives from125 countries
gathered in Berlin from 15 November, 2022 in order to advance the universal
abolition of capital punishment.
Grounds for Commutation of Death Sentence to Life Sentence
In India, the death penalty can be commuted to a life sentence in several
situations, as outlined by the Indian legal system. Some of the common grounds
for commuting a death sentence to life imprisonment include:
- If the convict is found to be suffering from severe mental illness or disability to the extent that they cannot understand the nature and purpose of their punishment, their death penalty may be commuted.
- Excessive delays in the execution of the death penalty can lead to its commutation. The Supreme Court of India has held that inordinate and inexplicable delays in carrying out the execution can be a ground for commutation.
- The President of India or the Governor of a state has the power to grant clemency or pardon, which can result in the commutation of a death sentence to life imprisonment.
- If there are supervening circumstances that make the execution of the death penalty unjust or inhuman, it may be commuted. This can include factors such as changes in the convict's physical or mental health.
- If it is determined that the person sentenced to death was a juvenile at the time of the crime, their sentence may be commuted. Juveniles cannot be sentenced to death in India.
- If new evidence emerges that establishes the innocence of the convict, it can lead to the commutation of the death sentence.
- India is a signatory to international treaties that prohibit the execution of mentally ill individuals or juveniles. Compliance with these treaties may lead to commutation.
It's important to note that the specific criteria and grounds for commutation
may vary depending on the circumstances of each case and the decisions of the
courts. Ultimately, the decision to commute a death sentence to life
imprisonment is made by the judiciary or, in certain cases, by the executive
Death Row Population in India and the US
As of December 31, 2021, India's death row population stood at 488 individuals,
marking a significant increase of nearly 21% from the previous year. Among the
Indian states, Uttar Pradesh held the highest number of death row inmates, with
a total of 86 individuals awaiting execution. This surge in the death row
population represents the highest figure recorded since 2004, according to data
sourced from the National Crime Records Bureau's Prison Statistics report.
As of the most recent data, the total number of individuals in the United States
who were either on death rows or awaiting capital retrials or re-sentencing
stood at 2,363. This number represented a decrease of 31 individuals since July
1, 2022, and a more significant decrease of 92 individuals (3.7%) from the
figure reported on July 1, 2022. Notably, the convictions or death sentences of
188 individuals on death row had been reversed, pending retrial, resentencing,
or the completion of the appeals process. Consequently, 2,175 prisoners remained
facing active death sentences, reflecting a decrease of 24 from the previous
A substantial portion of individuals on U.S. death row, specifically 855
prisoners or 36.2%, found themselves in states where moratoria on executions
were in effect. In contrast, 1,367 prisoners in 23 states, constituting 58% of
the death row population, had death sentences categorized as active and
enforceable by the legal framework. These statistics underscore the dynamic and
evolving nature of the capital punishment landscape in the United States.
Legal avenues are not entirely closed to death row inmates. In several
countries, including the United States, they have the right to launch appeals,
seeking to overturn their convictions or sentences. These appeals may challenge
various aspects of their cases, such as claims of inadequate legal
representation, the emergence of new evidence, or violations of constitutional
rights. The pursuit of these appeals becomes a lifeline for some, potentially
prolonging their time on death row.
The road from sentencing to execution is fraught with uncertainty and can span
years, if not decades. This protracted period of waiting varies based on the
legal system, the complexity of the case, and the effectiveness of legal
representation. Meanwhile, death row inmates often confront the grim reality of
their impending fate, experiencing the psychological toll of prolonged
The issue of capital punishment remains a contentious topic,
sparking global discussions on ethics, human rights, and the possibility of
irrevocable errors in a system designed to administer the ultimate punishment.
While some nations and regions have abolished the death penalty, others grapple
with its place in a modern justice system, leaving this complex issue far from
Death Sentence in India
The year 2020 witnessed 94 individuals being sentenced to the ultimate
punishment of death across India, as per recent data released by the National
Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). This grim statistic adds to the existing roster of
413 death row prisoners incarcerated throughout the country until the close of
the same year. Among the states, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan reported the
highest number of new death sentences, with 15 individuals each facing this
severe fate, followed closely by West Bengal (14), Bihar (8), Tamil Nadu and
Jharkhand (6 each).
However, the path to execution is not always inevitable. The NCRB's report also
reveals that the death sentences of 29 convicts were commuted to life
imprisonment in 2020. Maharashtra recorded the highest number of commutations,
with 7 individuals spared from the gallows, followed by Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu
(5 each). These commutations highlight the complexities and uncertainties
inherent in the legal process surrounding capital punishment.
In the broader context, these statistics reflect the delicate balance between
justice, human rights, and the irreversibility of the death penalty. With 413
convicts on death row accounting for a fraction of the total prison population,
the issue of capital punishment continues to provoke ethical, legal, and
societal debates throughout India. Uttar Pradesh, with 53 such convicts, leads
the list, followed by Maharashtra (49) and Madhya Pradesh (40). The statistics
underscore the enduring challenges and dilemmas associated with the death
penalty in the Indian legal landscape.
Psychology of Death Row Prisoners
The psychology of death sentence prisoners is an intricate and multifaceted
realm, characterized by a spectrum of emotional, psychological, and social
challenges. These individuals, condemned to the ultimate punishment, grapple
with profound and often overwhelming emotions. The anticipation of execution
gives rise to intense fear, anxiety, depression, and a sense of hopelessness, as
they confront the harrowing uncertainty surrounding their future, bearing the
heavy knowledge that their lives hang in the balance.
In response to their dire circumstances, death row prisoners develop various
coping mechanisms. For some, religion becomes a refuge, offering solace and
spiritual support during their darkest hours. Others turn inward, engaging in
self-reflection and meditation as a means to discover inner peace amidst the
turmoil. Additionally, many become deeply involved in their legal defense,
seeing it as a source of hope and distraction. The arduous process of appealing
their conviction and sentence can consume a substantial portion of their time
and emotional energy, offering a glimmer of optimism amid adversity.
The isolation imposed upon death row inmates further compounds their
psychological challenges. Solitary confinement is a common practice,
intensifying feelings of isolation and loneliness. Prolonged periods of
isolation can trigger severe mental health issues, including hallucinations and
debilitating anxiety. Maintaining relationships with loved ones outside the
prison walls is a formidable task due to physical separation and the stigma
associated with their circumstances, causing both death row prisoners and their
families to grapple with emotional distress. Some prisoners also wrestle with
the weight of guilt and remorse for their crimes, particularly if their actions
have caused harm to innocent victims. Psychological assessments are often
conducted to evaluate their mental state and competency, impacting legal
proceedings, including appeals related to mental fitness.
Living under the constant specter of execution, known as the "death row
phenomenon," exerts profound psychological effects. These enduring traumas can
persist long after commutation of the death sentence, underscoring the deep
scars left by the experience. Amid these challenges, some death row prisoners
demonstrate remarkable resilience, engaging in educational pursuits, artistic
endeavors, or activism from behind bars, seeking to maintain a sense of purpose
The psychology of death sentence prisoners is a deeply intricate and
often heart-wrenching domain, shaped by a unique combination of individual
histories, legal processes, and personal coping strategies. Mental health
professionals, prison staff, and support organizations play vital roles in
addressing the psychological needs of these individuals, recognizing the
formidable nature of their circumstances. Simultaneously, debates surrounding
the ethical and human rights dimensions of the death penalty continue to
influence discussions about the psychology of those who face it.
In one incident in Presidency Correction Home of Kolkata, West Bengal, a death
row prisoner killed himself by injuring his stomach with a blade after his plea
for turning his death sentence to life sentence on mental illness ground was
rejected after he was declared mentally sound during mental health check up.
Legal Process before Execution of a Prisoner Sentenced to Death
In India, the legal journey leading to the execution of a prisoner sentenced to
death is a comprehensive and multi-layered process. It is meticulously designed
to ensure that the individual facing the ultimate penalty is afforded a fair and
just determination of their fate.
The process begins with a criminal trial where the accused is prosecuted for the
alleged capital offense. If the accused is found guilty, the trial may then move
to the sentencing phase. During this stage, especially prevalent in the Indian
legal system, both the prosecution and defense present evidence related to the
defendant's background, the particulars of the crime, and any factors that could
either mitigate or aggravate the sentencing decision.
Following the trial, a critical phase unfolds. In India, death penalty cases
undergo an automatic review by a High Court, which scrutinizes not only the
conviction but also the appropriateness of the death sentence. Should the High
Court confirm the death penalty, the defendant retains the right to appeal to
the Supreme Court of India. Here, the Supreme Court conducts a comprehensive
review, examining legal errors, potential constitutional violations, and any
miscarriages of justice. If the Supreme Court upholds the death sentence, the
defendant may subsequently seek a review of the verdict.
Further avenues for review are available to the condemned. In cases where the
Supreme Court confirms the death sentence, a review petition may be filed with
the same court, though the grounds for review are restricted primarily to errors
evident on the face of the legal record.
Clemency offers another layer of consideration. Under Article 72 of the Indian
Constitution, the President has the authority to grant pardons, reprieves, and
respites. The defendant or their legal representatives can present a mercy
petition, which is evaluated by the relevant State Governor or the President,
depending on the jurisdiction.
However, if all appeals and clemency petitions are exhausted and the death
sentence remains intact, the legal system proceeds with the issuance of an
execution warrant. This document specifies the date and time of the impending
execution, marking the culmination of a lengthy and rigorous legal process.
Throughout this process, the specific legal procedures and available avenues of
appeal can vary, contingent upon the nature of the crime and the jurisdiction
within India. Notably, international human rights organizations and legal
experts remain vigilant in their scrutiny of India's death penalty system,
raising concerns regarding delays, potential arbitrariness in application, and
adherence to international human rights standards.
Prisoners awaiting Death Sentence
Prisoners sentenced to death, awaiting the fateful day of execution, grapple
with an uncertain timeline. The average duration between the pronouncement of
the death sentence and its grim culmination remains elusive. In 2016, Project
39A offered insights into this ambiguity. Individuals with pending appeals in
the Supreme Court experienced a median period of incarceration exceeding six
years, while those whose pleas for a presidential pardon were denied endured a
median period of nearly 17 years. Remarkably, the most protracted period of such
incarceration extended an agonizing 25 years.
In 1983, a landmark decision by the Supreme Court rendered any delay exceeding a
two-year interval between the death sentence and execution illegal (T.V.
Vatheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu). Subsequently, in 2014, a crucial change
was implemented, mandating a 14-day gap between notifying prisoners of the
rejection of their mercy petition and the execution itself. This provision aimed
to allow relatives precious moments for visitation and farewells (Shatrugan
Chauhan v. Union of India
). Nonetheless, the case of Yakub M. in 2015
exemplified the stark realities of this process, as he was hanged mere hours
after the Supreme Court dismissed his final mercy plea, casting a somber shadow
over the intricate legal journey faced by death row inmates in India.
Execution Methods Used in 2022
In 2022, several methods of execution continued to be used by various countries
around the world, albeit with varying degrees of frequency and controversy.
These methods have evolved over time, reflecting changes in societal norms,
legal standards, and available technology. Here, we will elaborate on four
common execution methods employed in 2022:
Beheading is a method of execution that involves decapitating the condemned
individual. Historically, it has been employed in various forms across different
cultures and time periods, often as a public spectacle. In recent years, Saudi
Arabia has been the most notable country to employ beheading as a method of
execution. In Saudi Arabia, executions by beheading are typically carried out in
public squares, attracting international attention and criticism.
Hanging is one of the oldest and most widely used methods of execution. It
involves suspending the condemned person by the neck with a noose until they
suffocate or break their neck. The drop length and type of knot used can
influence the speed and effectiveness of the execution. Several countries,
including India, Iran, Japan, and some U.S. states, continued to use hanging as
a method of execution in 2022, although its use has declined in some places in
favor of other methods.
Lethal injection is a method of execution that involves administering a series
of drugs to induce death. It is considered a more humane alternative to some
older methods. The drugs typically used include an anesthetic or sedative, a
paralytic agent, and a drug that induces cardiac arrest. The intention behind
this combination is to guarantee a swift and painless demise. The United States
is one of the most prominent countries to use lethal injection as its primary
method of execution, although controversies surrounding the availability and
effectiveness of execution drugs have raised significant ethical and legal
Execution by shooting involves firing bullets into the body of the condemned
person, typically aiming at vital organs to ensure a quick death. This method is
used in several countries, including China and some Middle Eastern nations. In
some cases, a firing squad is employed, where multiple individuals
simultaneously shoot the condemned person to distribute the responsibility among
the shooters. China, in particular, has faced international scrutiny for its use
of execution by shooting.
It's important to note that the use of these execution methods has sparked
significant ethical, human rights, and legal debates. Many countries and
international organizations, including the United Nations, advocate for the
abolition of the death penalty due to concerns about its application, cruelty,
and the potential for wrongful convictions. The choice of execution method can
be influenced by a country's legal system, cultural norms, and historical
practices, leading to significant variation in how the death penalty is carried
Executions in 2022
In the year 2022, the practice of capital punishment persisted in various
countries across the globe, with at least 21 nations carrying out executions.
The United States conducted 18 executions, reflecting the ongoing debate over
the death penalty within the region. In the Asia-Pacific region, Bangladesh
executed four individuals, and Japan carried out a single execution.
the precise number of executions in the populous nation of China and the
secretive state of North Korea remains shrouded in secrecy, highlighting the
challenges of obtaining accurate information regarding executions in these
countries. Nearby, Myanmar executed four individuals, while Singapore, known for
its strict laws, carried out 11 executions. Vietnam's exact numbers remained
undisclosed, underscoring the difficulties in tracking executions in this
Moving to Europe, Belarus maintained the practice of capital punishment,
although the specific number of executions was not publicly available. In the
Middle East and North Africa, several nations recorded executions, including
Iran with over 596 confirmed cases, Saudi Arabia with 146 executions and Kuwait
However, the precise figures for Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan,
Palestine, Syria, and Yemen were elusive, emphasizing the opacity surrounding
execution statistics in the region. Moreover, some countries, like Libya, were
reported to have conducted extrajudicial executions, raising concerns about
human rights violations. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Somalia executed 19 individuals,
while South Sudan carried out two executions.
Notably, among the countries mentioned, three of the five People's Republics,
namely Bangladesh, China, and North Korea, continued to implement the death
penalty, showcasing the divergent approaches to this contentious issue.
Additionally, within the realm of developed nations, four countries, Japan,
Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States, upheld the practice of capital
punishment, demonstrating the complexities and differing perspectives
surrounding the death penalty on the global stage in 2022.
Last Day of the Death Sentence Prisoner
As per the Delhi Jail Manual, death row convicts are housed in a dedicated
enclosure, typically situated within the prison premises. The custody of these
cells, holding the lives in the balance, changes hands daily, with the keys
entrusted to the head warder on duty at each shift transition. In the event of
an alarm being raised, the head warder is tasked with approaching the cell
housing the death row inmate.
The personnel overseeing these convicts are mandated to respond promptly upon
hearing the alarm, a precautionary measure aimed at thwarting any desperate
attempts by the condemned prisoners to delay their execution through violent
means. Further guidelines dictate that the Superintendent and Deputy
Superintendent of the prison pay a visit to the prisoner sentenced to death just
moments before the scheduled execution. Here, the inmate is formally identified,
and the ominous 'black' warrant, bearing their name and fate, is read aloud.
In the hours leading up to the execution, and during the solemn event itself,
the entire prison complex is placed under lockdown. No other prisoner is
permitted to leave their cell for any reason. The convict is prepared for
execution by securing their hands behind their back while removing leg irons.
They are then led to the execution scaffold, escorted by the Deputy
Superintendent, head warder, and a contingent of six warders.
Following the execution, the Superintendent is obligated to promptly dispatch a
report of the event to the Inspector General and return the death warrant, now
marked with the somber finality of execution, to the court that issued it.
Approximately half an hour after the sentence has been carried out; a medical
examiner arrives to confirm the passing of the convict, marking the solemn
conclusion of a chapter in the complex world of capital punishment.
Facilities to Death Row Prisoners before the Day of their Execution
In India, death sentence prisoners are entitled to certain facilities and rights
before the day of their execution. These facilities are designed to ensure
humane treatment and uphold their dignity, even in the face of the ultimate
penalty. While the specifics may vary based on the state and prison, here are
some common facilities and rights available to death sentence prisoners before
- Death row inmates have the right to legal representation at all stages of their legal proceedings, including during appeals and clemency petitions. Legal counsel assists them in navigating the legal processes and advocating for their rights.
- Death row prisoners are generally allowed visitation by family members, legal representatives, and, in some cases, religious or spiritual advisors. Visitation policies may vary depending on the prison's security level and regulations.
- Prisoners on death row have the right to access medical care, and their health needs should be addressed. This includes physical and mental health assessments and access to necessary medical treatment.
- Death row inmates are entitled to practice their religion and have access to religious texts and visits from religious or spiritual leaders, subject to security considerations.
- Prisoners have the right to access legal materials, including case files, court documents, and relevant laws, to assist in their appeals and petitions.
- Death row prisoners may have limited access to communication, including writing letters to family and legal representatives. Restrictions on communication may vary based on security concerns.
- In some jurisdictions, prisoners are given the opportunity to request a last meal of their choice and may be allowed to make a final statement before their execution.
- Recognizing the psychological toll of awaiting execution, some prisons provide mental health counseling or support services to death row inmates.
- Prison authorities are typically required to notify the inmate of their execution date in advance, allowing them time to prepare mentally and emotionally.
- The authorities responsible for reviewing clemency petitions submitted by death row inmates are obligated to thoroughly consider these requests and any supporting evidence before making a decision.
It's important to note that the availability and conditions of these facilities
may vary based on the state or union territory in India where the death sentence
is carried out. Additionally, India has ratified international human rights
treaties that emphasize the importance of treating all prisoners, including
those on death row, with dignity and respect for their human rights, regardless
of their circumstances.
Arguments in favour of Death Sentence
Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, continues to be a
contentious issue, with proponents highlighting several perceived benefits
associated with its use.
A primary argument in favor of capital punishment is its potential to act as a deterrent against violent crime. Advocates assert that the prospect of facing execution can dissuade individuals from committing heinous acts. The severity of the punishment, they contend, serves as a powerful disincentive against murder and other grave offenses.
Capital punishment is viewed as a means of providing retribution for the victim's family and society at large. It is seen as a way to hold the offender accountable for the harm inflicted upon the victim and their loved ones. Supporters argue that executing the perpetrator brings a sense of closure to the victim's family and provides a form of societal retribution for the grievous crime committed.
Many proponents argue that capital punishment ensures justice for the victim. They believe that the death penalty is an appropriate response to the gravity of murder, representing a just punishment for those who have taken another person's life. In their view, executing the offender is the only way to fully serve justice in such cases.
Surprisingly, proponents assert that capital punishment can be a cost-effective form of punishment. They contend that the expenses associated with housing a convicted murderer for life can surpass the costs of execution. While the appeals process for death penalty cases can be lengthy and expensive, proponents argue that these costs are outweighed by the potential deterrent effect of the death penalty.
Another benefit cited is the enhancement of public safety. Advocates claim that executing dangerous criminals removes them from society, making it safer. This is particularly emphasized in cases involving individuals who have committed multiple heinous crimes and are deemed unlikely to ever be rehabilitated.
While proponents highlight these perceived benefits, it is essential to
acknowledge that the death penalty remains a subject of ongoing debate.
Opponents raise valid concerns, including the risk of executing innocent
individuals and the potential for racial and socioeconomic biases within the
criminal justice system. The question of whether capital punishment is a truly
beneficial practice continues to be a complex and divisive issue.
Arguments against Death Sentence
Abolishing the death penalty is a topic steeped in moral, legal, and societal
considerations, with a multitude of reasons advocating for its elimination.
First and foremost, the irrevocable nature of execution casts a shadow of
irreversible error. The prospect of executing an innocent person looms as a
haunting specter, a risk that can never be entirely eradicated. Illustrating
this grim reality, the United States has seen over 191 individuals released from
death row since 1973 due to evidence of their innocence. Tragically, others have
met their end despite lingering doubts regarding their guilt.
Moreover, the oft-touted claim that the death penalty deters crime is a
contention undermined by a dearth of credible evidence. Numerous studies have
discredited this notion, revealing that capital punishment is no more effective
in curtailing criminal activity than life imprisonment.
Further complicating matters, the death penalty is frequently wielded within
justice systems marred by glaring inequities. Many instances documented by
Amnesty International reveal executions following grossly unfair trials, marred
by evidence extracted through torture and characterized by deficient legal
representation. Some countries prescribe death sentences as mandatory punishment
for specific offenses, thereby depriving judges of the discretion to consider
the unique circumstances of both the crime and the defendant.
Another troubling facet of capital punishment is its proclivity for
discrimination. The weight of this ultimate penalty disproportionately falls
upon those with less privileged socio-economic backgrounds or who belong to
marginalized racial, ethnic, or religious communities. These individuals often
face limited access to legal representation and encounter systemic disadvantages
within the criminal justice system.
Finally, the death penalty is employed as a political tool in certain regions,
such as Iran and Sudan. Here, it is wielded as a means of punishing political
opponents, casting a shadow over the integrity of justice.
The reasons to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty are multifaceted,
touching on issues of justice, human rights, and the fundamental dignity of all
Court Judgments on Death Row Prisoners
India is among the 78 countries that still have the death penalty. It's used
sparingly, reserved for what's considered the "rarest of rare cases" or "special
reasons." However, what exactly qualifies as such cases hasn't been clearly
defined by either the Legislature or the Supreme Court.
In 1978, in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration & Ors
, the Supreme Court ruled
that prisoners sentenced to death must be treated just like the other prisoners
until their sentence can be carried out.
The Supreme Court has stated that hanging by the neck as a method of execution
could be declared unconstitutional if there is scientific evidence supporting a
less painful and more humane alternative. On March 22, 2023, adjudicating on a
petition, the court urged the Union government to begin a discussion on this
matter and gather information about executions conducted over the past four
In 1980, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of capital punishment
in the Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab
case, with the condition that it should
only be applied in the "rarest of the rare" cases.
In the case of Deena v. Union of India
, a challenge was brought against the
constitutional validity of Section 354(5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure,
1973. The contention was that the prescribed method of execution, hanging, was
considered barbarous, inhuman, and degrading, thus violating Article 21 of the
Indian Constitution. However, the court ruled that Section 354(5) of the CrPC,
which mandated hanging as the mode of execution, was deemed a fair, just, and
reasonable procedure within the ambit of Article 21, affirming its
In the case of Sher Singh v. State of Punjab
, Chief Justice Chandrachud,
speaking for a panel of three Supreme Court judges, affirmed that the death
sentence is constitutionally valid and permissible under the framework
established in the Bachan Singh case. This declaration was established as the
prevailing law of the land.
Likewise, in the case of Triveniben v. State of Gujarat
, the Supreme Court
emphatically asserted that the Indian Constitution does not prohibit the
imposition of the death penalty.
However, a significant turning point occurred in the case of Mithu v. State of
, where Section 303 of the CrPC was struck down as it violated Articles 21
and 14 of the Indian Constitution. This section mandated capital punishment as
the only punishment for the offense, depriving the judiciary of the discretion
to consider alternative penalties, resulting in an unjust and unreasonable
procedure that infringed upon an individual's right to life.
In the landmark case of Jagmohan Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh
, a unanimous
decision by a five-judge Supreme Court bench reaffirmed the constitutional
validity of the death penalty in India. The challenge to the death sentence was
based on the argument that it violated Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution
due to the absence of a specific procedure for its imposition. The Court,
however, held that the choice of the death penalty is made in accordance with
the procedure established by law. It emphasized that the judge's decision to
award capital punishment or life imprisonment is based on a careful evaluation
of the circumstances, facts, and the nature of the crime presented during the
trial, ensuring a just and fair process.
In contrast, the case of Rajendra Prasad v. State of UP
saw Justice Krishna Iyer
strongly asserting that the death penalty contravened Articles 14, 19, and 21.
He argued that for the imposition of the death penalty, two essential conditions
must be met: firstly, there must be a specific reason recorded for choosing the
death penalty, and secondly, it should only be imposed in truly exceptional
circumstances. This perspective was later challenged in Bachan Singh v. State of
, where a five-judge Supreme Court bench, with a majority of 4 to 1
(Justice Bhagwati dissenting), overturned the earlier decision in Rajendra
The Court opined that the death penalty, as an alternative punishment
for murder, was not unreasonable and did not violate Articles 14, 19, and 21. It
introduced the principle of awarding the death penalty only in the 'rarest of
rare cases,' setting forth a new criterion. However, Justice Bhagwati, in his
dissenting opinion, contended that the death penalty was not only
unconstitutional due to violations of Articles 14 and 21 but also undesirable
from multiple perspectives.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court in Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab
criteria for when the death sentence should be imposed. Justice Thakkar,
representing the Court, identified five categories of cases as 'rarest of rare,'
justifying the imposition of the death penalty.
These categories included the
brutal manner of the murder, a motive demonstrating depravity, socially
abhorrent crimes, crimes of significant magnitude, and the personality of the
victim. This decision provided a framework for evaluating the appropriateness of
the death penalty based on the specifics of each case, emphasizing the gravity
and rareness of the circumstances that warrant such a severe punishment.
Opinions on the death penalty vary widely among individuals and societies. The
death penalty is a complex and contentious issue with arguments both in favor of
its retention and for its abolition. Supporters of the death penalty often argue
that it serves as a deterrent to serious crimes, provides closure to victims'
families, and ensures that the most dangerous criminals do not have the
opportunity to harm others.
On the other hand, opponents argue that the death
penalty is morally wrong, that it carries the risk of executing innocent people,
and that it does not necessarily deter crime more effectively than other forms
of punishment. Public opinion and government policies regarding the death
penalty differ from one country to another and even within regions and states.
Many countries have abolished the death penalty, while others still practice it.
Ultimately, the issue of the death penalty is a matter of ethics, justice, and
human rights, and opinions on it reflect a wide range of perspectives.
Written By: Md. Imran Wahab
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected]
, Ph no: 9836576565