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Long row ahead

Hundreds of convicts remain on death row in the country. Only 5 per cent are actually executed. Harish V Nair reports.

delhi Updated: Feb 13, 2009 23:43 IST
Harish V Nair

A lower court passing a death sentence makes for big news but executions are extremely rare in India.

Government statistics reveal only 5 per cent convicts on death row have been executed in the last three decades. Altogether, around 800 death sentences have been passed during the period while only 41 executions have taken place.

Appeals

In most cases, the death penalty is commuted by a higher court.

For instance, a trial court had sentenced retired Assistant Commissioner of Police RP Tyagi to death on December 15, 2006 in a case of custodial death. Fifteen months later, Delhi High Court commuted the sentence to eight years’ imprisonment.

Clemency

Even when the state’s high court and the Supreme Court of India confirm the death penalty, the state governor or the President of India can grant clemency.

For instance, the death sentence of Nalini — wife of Murugan, an accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case — was commuted to life term by the then President KR Narayanan, following a plea by the deceased’s wife Sonia Gandhi.

At present, 21 clemency petitions are pending before the President, including that of Parliament attack accused Mohd Afzal.

Executions also get delayed as they cannot be carried out during the pendency of a mercy petition before the President or a state governor. While Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991, three men sentenced to death in connection with the case — Perarivalan, Murugan and Shanthan — are still on death row, as their mercy petitions are pending before the President.

Little hope

But Koli and Pandher should not draw hope from these cases. Their crimes — rape, murder and cannibalism — are considered the most abhorrent. In fact, four of the last eight executions in India have been of criminals convicted of brutally murdering young women and children.

The last convict to be executed in the country was Dhananjay Chatterjee, a security guard convicted of raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl in Kolkata, in 1990. Chatterjee was hanged to death on August 14, 2004.

Ranga and Billa, two notorious criminals, were executed in 1982 for raping and killing teenager Geeta Chopra and murdering her younger brother Sanjay Chopra in Delhi.

Likewise, an auto-rickshaw driver ‘Auto Shankar’ was executed in Chennai, in 1995, for kidnapping and murdering six girls during 1987-88.