7th anniversary of Nirbhaya case: A look at death penalties in India
As calls for hanging the rapists intensifies on the 7th anniversary of the gruesome Nirbhaya rape-and-murder case, there is a need to have a look at India’s record on death penalties to convicts and their execution. The Supreme court, which had on July 9 last year, dismissed the review pleas filed by three convicts in the case, is scheduled to hear a review of plea of one of the death-row convicts on December 17.
The three convicts who still have the option of filing curative pleas in the top court against their death penalty in the case can then move the President with their mercy pleas.
In case their mercy pleas are dismissed, the authorities can seek death warrants from a local court to execute them. The rejection of mercy pleas can also be challenged in courts by the convicts.
Parliament had last year expanded the scope of death penalty by introducing it in cases of rape of girls below 12 years under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO).
As per Project 39A report on death penalty, released by National Law University, Delhi, between 2000 and 2014 trial courts sentenced 1,810 people to death, more than half of which were commuted to life imprisonment and about a quarter of those, 443, were acquitted by the Supreme Court and high courts.
The Supreme Court had upheld the death sentence of 73 of these prisoners, out of which many had already spent a decade on death row.
The apex court last year commuted 11 death sentences to life imprisonment, while confirming them in three cases in the review plea hearing of the December 16 Delhi gang-rape case.
Former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had heard death penalty cases on priority by constituting four benches, each comprising three judges, which sat simultaneously for over 6 weeks to decide cases of capital punishment.
The apex court had confirmed seven death punishments in 2017 whereas in 2016 it had confirmed capital punishment in one case and commuted seven death penalties.
However, the trial courts in India sentenced 162 persons to the gallows in 2018, which was the highest in nearly two decades, since 2000. Out of these, 45 included cases for murder and 58 for murder involving sexual offences.
The high courts of the country had confirmed 23 death sentences in 2018 whereas they commuted 58 of them and remitted 10 cases. The year saw acquittal in 23 cases in high courts.
As per its data on death penalty, as many as 720 prisoners have been executed in India since 1947. Half of these are accounted for by Uttar Pradesh, followed by Haryana, 90 and Madhya Pradesh with 73 executions.
One of the initial executions of independent India, was of Nathuram Godse and Narain D Apte, assassins of Mahatma Gandhi; they were hanged to death in Ambala Central Jail in Haryana on November 15, 1949.
The crimes punishable with death term in India fall under The Prevention of Child Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) 1999, Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) 1985, among others.
In 2018, with 22 cases of capital punishment, over four times more compared to 2017, Madhya Pradesh topped the list of states giving death penalty.
With 16 convicts being sentenced to capital punishment, Maharahstra was second in the list, closely followed by Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh with 15 cases each of death sentences.
According to Cornell Centre on the Death Penalty Worldwide, the last execution that had taken place in India was on July 30, 2015 of Yakub Memon, a convict in financing 1993 Mumbai bombings.
Prior to Memon, Muhammad Afzal Guru, who was convicted in the 2001 Parliament attack was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court on December 18, 2002. He was hanged on February 9, 2013, ten years after his sentencing.
The special court had sentenced Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, the 2008 Mumbai attack gunman, to death on May 6, 2010 and he was executed two years later on November 21, 2012 after the then President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his mercy petition. The top court had confirmed the sentence on August 29, 2012.
Both Qasab and Guru were executed in secrecy without informing their family members or the the public of the President’s decision. The world got to know only after the hanging had been carried out.
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