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It’s been 10 years, but India still doesn’t want to replace hanging with lethal injection

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A decade after looking at options to replace death by hanging with a ‘more humane’ way, ministry says no such proposal being examined.

New Delhi: About a decade after the Centre started looking at various options, including lethal injection, to find a ‘more humane’ way to replace death by hanging for convicts awarded death penalty by the courts, the process seems to have been discarded without any decision being taken.

In a cryptic response to an RTI application filed by ThePrint asking what progress, if any, had been made on the proposal to replace the system of administering death through, what many call gruesome, hanging, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said, “…It is stated that at present there is no such issue (of giving death through a means other than hanging) being examined in this Ministry.”

Also read: Victim impact statements can achieve what death penalty can’t

History of demand

Under Section 354(5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the mode of execution of death sentence is hanging till death.

In 2008-2009, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs had begun consultations with stakeholders, including state governments — law and order is a state subject — on whether death by hanging should be replaced with a ‘more humane’ method.

The move came after careful examination of the 187th report of the Law Commission of India on “Mode of Execution of Death Sentence and Incidental Matters,” which was submitted to the government in October 2003.

In its report, the commission recommended that Section 354(5) of the CrPC be amended by providing an “alternative mode of execution of death sentence by lethal injection until the accused is dead”.

“It will be in the discretion of the Judge to pass an appropriate order regarding the mode of execution of death sentence. The convict shall, of course, be heard on the question of mode of execution of death sentence before such discretion is exercised,” it said.

In the same report, the Law Commission also recommended that death sentence matters must be heard only by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court.

Interestingly, the report also mentioned various methods of administering death that have been used since ages including crucification (Jesus Christ), burning at the stake, the wheel, guillotine (King Charles I), hanging and garrote, headman’s axe, firing squad, gas chamber, electrocution, and death by hanging.

In its report, the commission also cited the landmark Supreme Court judgment on death penalty — Bachan Singh versus State of Punjab — where the court observed that physical pain and suffering which the execution of the sentence of death (hanging) entails is no less cruel and inhuman.

Also read: Death penalty is not justice, it is revenge

MHA consultations with states

Between 2008 and 2010, the MHA wrote to state governments seeking their views on the Law Commission report as also the need to replace death by hanging with some other method.

Barring a few states, majority of the governments strongly favoured replacing death by hanging with lethal injection. Several governments also agreed with the commission recommendation that death sentence matters be heard only by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, with some even suggesting that in case of even one judge dissenting, death should not be awarded.

But, it now seems the Centre has put an end to the consultations and has decided to stick to the death by hanging method.

Incidentally, the clamour of awarding death sentence to rapists and terrorists has also been receiving more support in recent times. In a report on the issue of death penalty, in 2015, the Law Commission suggested abolition of the death penalty from the statute books, saying it should be awarded only in cases where the accused is convicted of involvement in a terror case.

However, the government hasn’t accepted the report so far.

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  1. There is a world of difference between “terror” & “terrorism”. Both are not interchangeable. The word “terrorism” is very specific.

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