As of 31 December 2018, there were 426 convicts on death row. No death sentences were awarded in J&K, Goa and 6 NE states, with Assam as exception.
New Delhi: As many as 162 convicts were sentenced to death by lower courts in India last year, with Madhya Pradesh accounting for 22, the highest of all states, a report has revealed.
According to ‘The Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics 2018’, released by the Delhi-based National Law University’s research group Project 39A, Maharashta accounted for the second highest number of death penalty verdicts, 16, while courts in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh handed out 15 each.
As of 31 December 2018, the report points out, 426 Indian convicts were on death row. Of these, 46 per cent, or 198 convicts, were in three states — Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra — each of which had 66 death row prisoners.
No death sentences were awarded in Jammu & Kashmir, Goa and six north-eastern states, Assam being the exception.
Punishing child rapists
The figures, as pointed out in the report, show a marked increase between 2017 and 2018 in the number of death penalties handed out in Madhya Pradesh: The state had sentenced six people to death in 2017, as compared to 22 in 2018.
The report notes this increase with concern, pointing out that last year’s IPC amendment introducing the death penalty for rape of children aged below 12 years had been used most commonly in Madhya Pradesh.
The state, which records some of India’s worst rape statistics, was the first to introduce the death sentence for child rapists, doing so in December 2017, months before the Narendra Modi government issued a similar provision.
The report pointed out that the MP government had consistently pushed for punishing child sexual assault with death penalty, flagging its incentive system for public prosecutors seeking the severest punishment for offenders.
The state government reportedly devised and implemented a rewards system, under which public prosecutors are awarded 100-200 points for securing the maximum punishment for a given crime, 500 for life sentence, and 1,000 points for death penalty.
Prosecutors earning more than 2,000 points, the report adds, are given titles such as ‘Best Prosecutor of the Month’ and ‘Pride of Prosecution’, while those who get less than 500 points are issued strict warnings.
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Different story in Supreme Court
The approach towards the death sentence takes a different turn in the Supreme Court, which commuted 11 death penalties to life imprisonment last year, while rejecting the review plea filed by the 2012 Delhi gang rape case convicts.
The report referred to a verdict delivered by a bench led by Justice Kurian Joseph that upheld the constitutional validity of the death penalty by a 2:1 majority. Justice Joseph had penned a powerful dissent note and sought a re-examination of the capital punishment.
“Every death penalty case before the court deals with a human life that enjoys certain constitutional protection and if life is to be taken away, then the process must adhere to the strictest and highest constitutional standards,” he had said.
Referring to a Law Commission report, Justice Joseph added: “The constitutional regulation of capital punishment… has failed to prevent death sentences from being arbitrarily and freakishly imposed and capital punishment has failed to achieve any constitutionally valid penological goals… We are of the view that a time has come where we view the need for death penalty as a punishment, especially its purpose and practice.”
Top court lays down the law
After assuming charge as the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi has prioritised death-penalty cases and constituted four three-judge benches to that end.
A series of verdicts pronounced since CJI Gogoi took over have pointed out lapses in the administration of justice in capital punishment cases while commuting the penalty to life terms.
The court recently emphasised a series of conditions that need to be met before a death-penalty appeal is brought before the Supreme Court.
It said such cases should be examined by the apex court independently, “unbound by the findings of the trial court and the high court”, and ended the practice where such appeals were dismissed without an explanation.
Also read: Death penalty is not justice, it is revenge