A Gujarat court’s decision to award death to 11 of the 31 convicts in the Godhra case is bound to trigger a debate on the desirability of capital punishment. The order comes within days of the Bombay high court confirming death for 26/11 convict Ajmal Kasab.
Under the IPC, murder, gang robbery with murder, abetting suicide of a child or insane person, waging war against state, and abetting mutiny of the armed forces, attract death penalty. Some anti-terror laws, too, prescribe capital punishment.
Generally courts award life imprisonment in a murder case and death penalty is given in “rarest of the rare” cases. But, there is no statutory definition of “rarest of the rare”.
Only 52 people have been executed since Independence, according to official figures.
But the figure has been disputed by rights bodies, which claim the actual number to be more than 1,000.
On April 27, 1995, Auto Shankar was hanged in Tamil Nadu. Since then, the only person to be executed was Dhananjay Chatterjee in August 2004 in West Bengal.
In December 2007, India voted against a UN resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. But in effect, there has been a moratorium on capital punishment since 2004.
The SC’s recent decisions against awarding death penalty to Priyadarshani Mattoo’s killer Santosh Singh and Graham Staines’ killer Dara Singh go on to show that courts are increasingly getting averse to capital punishment.
About 30 mercy petitions, including that of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, are pending before the President, and successive governments have failed to take decisions.
Is this an indication that we are heading towards abolition of death penalty?
The main argument in favour of the sentence is that it deters criminals.
If state cannot give life, should it take it away? The death penalty is irreversible. If a convict turns out to be innocent, his execution cannot be undone.
The fact is that most of the civilised world, including our neighbour Nepal, has abolished death penalty. Should we follow suit? Certainly, it’s time to initiate an informed debate.