What is Capital Punishment?
According to Merriam-Webster, -
Punishment by Death; the practice of killing people as a punishment for serious
Capital punishment (i.e. Death Penalty) is a form of punishment under which the
offender is to be executed after being sentenced to death by the court of
law. It is the highest degree of punishment awarded to anyone under the law in
any part of the world. It is the tool used by the judiciary to punish the
individual who is guilty of the most heinous and degrading crimes against
James Fitzjames Stephen, an English jurist, believed that:
No other punishment deters man so effectually from committing crimes as the
punishment of death. This is one of those proposals that are difficult to prove
just because they are more obvious than any proof can make them. In any
secondary punishment, however terrible, there is hope, but death is death; its
terrors cannot be described more forcibly.
Background of Capital Punishment
Before independence, India retained the death penalty practice as mentioned
under IPC 1860 as prescribed by the British Assembly. However, several
Constituent Assembly members were in favour of abolishing the death penalty
while they were in the process of making the Constitution but to no avail.
Post Independence, many private members bills were introduced in both Lok Sabha
and Rajya Sabha, but not one of them was passed. As per the estimate, around
3000 to 4000 execution took place between 1950 to 1980. Even more so in the next
decade. However, it is estimated that two or three people were hanged annually
in the late-1990s.
Position in India
India has opposed a UN resolution that sought to promote a moratorium on the
death penalty and abolish it. Also, Indian Representatives said:
has the sovereign right to determine its legal system and appropriate legal penalties.
In India, the Death penalty is only granted in the ‘rarest of
the rare' cases. However, the court hasn't clarified what constitutes a case
to be rarest. Indian Laws fulfil all the requisite and procedural safeguards,
- Right to Fair Trial
- Presumption of Innocence
- Right to have a defence (If the person can't afford. Then Free Legal Aid is
- Right to review by HC of States
- Capital punishment is only awarded for the most heinous and grievous
Article 21 provides that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal
liberty except according to procedure established by law. Hence, we can say
the ‘right to life' is promised to every individual residing in India.
Who has the power to overturn the ruling of the court?
The President of India can grant mercy in any case where the death penalty has
been awarded. However, in Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab, the court held
that the death penalty would only be given in ‘rarest of rare cases.
Once an offender has been sentenced to death by the Sessions Court, the HC of
the State must confirm it. If the convict makes the appeal to the SC, but it
ultimately fails, he is left with the only alternative to submit for a 'mercy
petition' to the President of India. The Supreme Court has provided detailed
instructions on the procedure that are to be followed by the state judiciary to
deal with petitions for mercy from death-sentenced convicts. Although, appeals
to SC and request for special petition leave by convicts have to follow the
guidelines provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Article 72 of the Constitution of India provides the President with powers to
grant pardon, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or suspend, remit
or reduce the sentence of any individual who has been convicted of an offence.
Modes of Execution
Different countries use different methods of execution. Hanging, Lethal
Injection, Electrocution, Beheading, and Public Execution by shooting are the
current methods used throughout the world. Most of the above is an inhumane and
gross violation of Human Rights. There are two modes of execution in India viz.
Hanging and Shooting.
- Hanging: After Independence, Every death penalty in India is carried out
by hanging. Nathu Ram Gods was the first person to be