Capital punishment in India

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Capital punishment is a legal penalty in India.[1] It has been carried out in nine instances since 1995,[2][3][4][5] while a total of thirty executions have taken place in India since 1991, the most recent of which were carried out in 2020.[6]

The Supreme Court in Mithu vs. State of Punjab struck down Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code, which provided for a mandatory death sentence for offenders who committed murder whilst serving a life sentence.[7] The number of people executed in India since the nation achieved Independence in 1947 is a matter of dispute; official government statistics claim that fifty-two people had been executed since Independence. However, research by the People's Union for Civil Liberties indicates that the actual number of executions is in fact much higher, as they located records of 1,422 executions in the decade from 1953 to 1963 alone.[8] Research published by National Law University, Delhi on death row convicts since 2000 had found that of the 1,617 prisoners sentenced to death by trial courts in India, capital punishment was confirmed in only seventy-one cases.[9][10] NLU Delhi confirmed 755 executions in India since 1947.[11] National Law University, Delhi examined 1,414 prisoners who were executed, in the available list of convicts hanged in post-Independence since 1947.[12] According to a report of the Law Commission of India (1967), the total number of cases in which the death sentence was handed down in India from 1953-63 was 1410.[13]

In December 2007, India voted against a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.[14] In November 2012, India again upheld its stance on capital punishment by voting against the UN General Assembly draft resolution seeking to end the institution of capital punishment globally.[15]

On 31 August 2015, the Law Commission of India submitted a report to the government which recommended the abolition of capital punishment for all crimes in India, excepting the crime of waging war against the nation or for terrorism-related offences. The report cited several factors to justify abolishing the death penalty, including its abolition by 140 other nations, its arbitrary and flawed application and its lack of any proven deterring effect on criminals.[16]


In colonial India, death was prescribed as one of the punishments in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC),[17] which listed a number of capital crimes. It remained in effect after independence in 1947. The first hanging in Independent India was that of Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte in the Mahatma Gandhi assassination case on 15 November 1949.[18]

Under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, no person can be deprived of his life except according to procedure established by law.

Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab (1980)

The Constitution Bench judgment of Supreme Court of India in Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab (1980) (2 SCC 684) made it very clear that Capital punishment in India can be given only in rarest of rare cases.[3][19] This judgement was in line with the previous verdicts in Jagmohan Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (1973), and then in Rajendra Prasad vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (1979).[20][21][22] The Supreme Court of India ruled that the death penalty should be imposed only in "the rarest of rare cases."[1] While stating that honour killings fall within the "rarest of the rare" category, Court has recommended the death penalty be extended to those found guilty of committing "honour killings", which deserve to be a capital crime.[23] The Supreme Court also recommended death sentences to be imposed on police officials who commit police brutality in the form of encounter killings.[24]

An appeal filed in 2013 by Vikram Singh and another person facing the penalty of the death sentence questioned the constitutional validity of Section 364A of the Indian Penal Code.[25]

Other legislation

In addition to the Indian Penal Code, a series of legislation enacted by the Parliament of India have provisions for the death penalty.

Sati is the burning or burying alive of any widow or woman along with the body of her deceased husband or any other relative or with any article, object or thing associated with the husband or such relative. Under The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 Part. II, Section 4(1), if any person commits sati, whoever abets the commission of such sati, either directly or indirectly, shall be punishable with death.[26]

Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, 1989 was enacted to prevent the commission of offences of atrocities against the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. Under Section 3(2)(i) of the Act, bearing false witness in a capital case against a member of a scheduled caste or tribe, resulting in that person's conviction and execution, carries the death penalty.[27] In 1989, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 was passed which applied a mandatory death penalty for a second offence of "large scale narcotics trafficking".

In recent years, the death penalty has been imposed under new anti-terrorism legislation for people convicted of terrorist activities.[1] On 3 February 2013, in response to public outcry over a brutal gang rape in Delhi, the Indian Government passed an ordinance which applied the death penalty in cases of rape that leads to death or leaves the victim in a "persistent vegetative state".[28][29][30] The death penalty can also be handed down to repeat rape offenders under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013.

In January 2014, a three-judge panel headed by Chief Justice of India Palanisamy Sathasivam commuted sentences of 15 death row convicts, ruling that the "inordinate and inexplicable delay is a ground for commuting death penalty to life sentence".[31][32] Supreme Court of India ruled that delays ranging from seven to 11 years in the disposal of mercy pleas are grounds for clemency.[33] The same panel also passed a set of guidelines for the execution of a death row convict, which includes a 14-day gap from the receipt of communication of the rejection of the mercy petition[34] to the scheduled execution date, after going through the Shatrughan Chauhan vs. Union of India case.[35][36][37] Subsequently, in February 2014, Supreme Court commuted death sentence of Rajiv Gandhi's killers on the basis of 11-year delay in deciding on mercy plea.[38][39] It was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment.[40] In March 2014, Supreme Court of India commuted death sentence of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, convicted in a 1993 Delhi bombings case, to life imprisonment, both on the ground of unexplained/inordinate delay of eight years in disposal of mercy petition and on the ground of insanity/mental illness/schizophrenia.[41][42][43]

Curative petition

The concept of Curative petition was evolved by the Supreme Court of India in the matter of Rupa Ashok Hurra vs. Ashok Hurra and Anr. (2002) where the question was whether an aggrieved person is entitled to any relief against the final judgement/order of the Supreme Court, after dismissal of a review petition.[44] The Supreme Court in the said case held that to prevent abuse of its process and to cure gross miscarriage of justice, it may reconsider its judgements in exercise of its inherent powers.[45]

Capital offences

Section under IPC or other law Nature of crime
120B of IPC Being a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit a capital offence
121 of IPC Waging war against India
132 of IPC Abetting a mutiny in the armed forces (if a mutiny occurs as a result), engaging in mutiny
194 of IPC Giving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure a conviction of a capital offence
302, 303 of IPC Murder
305 of IPC Abetting the suicide of a minor
Part II Section 4 of The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 Aiding or abetting an act of Sati
364A of IPC Kidnapping, in the course of which the victim was held for ransom or other coercive purposes.
31A of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 Drug trafficking in cases of repeat offences
376AB of IPC; 42 of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) and Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 Rape and gang rape of a girl under 12 years of age[46]
396 of IPC Dacoity with murder – in cases where a group of five or more individuals commit dacoity and one of them commits murder in the course of that crime, all members of the group are liable for the death penalty.
376A of IPC and Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 Rape if the perpetrator inflicts injuries that result in the victim's death or incapacitation in a persistent vegetative state, or is a repeat offender.[47]
Bombay Prohibition (Gujarat Amendment) Act, 2009 In Gujarat only – Manufacture and sale of poisoned alcohol which results in death(s).[48][49]

Power of the President

The present day constitutional clemency powers of the President and Governors originate from the Government of India Act 1935 but, unlike the Governor General of India, the President and Governors in independent India do not have any prerogative clemency powers.

In V. Sriharan and Murugan v. Union of India, (2014) 4 SCC 242 the Supreme Court reiterated that the clemency procedure under Article 72/161 provides a ray of hope to the condemned prisoners and his family members for commutation of death sentence into life imprisonment and, therefore, the executive should step up and exercise its time honoured tradition of clemency power of guaranteed in the constitution one way or the other within a reasonable time. Profuse deliberation on the nature of power under Article 72/161 of the Constitution has already been said in Shatrughan Chauhan.[50]

Constitutional power

Article 72(1) of the Constitution of India states:

The President shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence

(a) in all cases where the punishment or sentence is by a Court Martial;

(b) in all cases where the punishment or sentence is for an offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the Union extends;

(c) in all cases where the sentence is a sentence of death.

Execution of death sentence

The execution of death sentence in India is carried out by hanging by the neck until death.


The Code of Criminal Procedure (1898) called for the method of execution to be hanging. The same method was adopted in the Code of Criminal Procedure (1973).[51] Section 354(5) of the above procedure reads as "When any person is sentenced to death, the sentence shall direct that the person be hanged by the neck till the person is dead." The hanging method is long drop, the method devised by William Marwood in Britain. The person has their neck snapped as they fall through the trapdoor and is left hanging until they are dead.

As of 2011, only two people had been hanged over the previous 15 years and there was no longer a professional hangman to be found.[52] 8 men have been hanged so far in the 21st century, most recently in 2020. The convicts of the Nirbhaya case were hanged till death at 5:30 am IST on 20 March 2020.[53]


The Army Act, The Navy Act and The Air Force Act also provide for the execution of the death sentence.[54] Section 34 of the Air Force Act, 1950 empowers the court martial to impose the death sentence for the offences mentioned in section 34(a) to (o) of The Air Force Act, 1950. Section 163 of the Act provides for the form of the sentence of death as:-

"In awarding a sentence of death, a court-martial shall, in its discretion, direct that the offender shall suffer death by being hanged by the neck until he be dead or shall suffer death by being shot to death."

This provides for the discretion of the Court Martial to either provide for the execution of the death sentence by hanging or by being shot to death. The Army Act, 1950, and The Navy Act, 1957 also provide for the similar provisions as in The Air Force Act, 1950.

Death penalty in Independent India

At least 100 people in 2007, 40 in 2006, 77 in 2005, 23 in 2002, and 33 in 2001 were sentenced to death (but not executed), according to Amnesty International figures. No official statistics of those sentenced to death have been released.

About 26 mercy petitions are pending before the president, some of them from 1992. These include those of Khalistan Liberation Force terrorist Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, the cases of slain forest bandit Veerappan's four associates—Simon, Gnanaprakasham, Meesekar Madaiah and Bilvendran—for killing 21 policemen in 1993; and Praveen Kumar for killing four members of his family in Mangalore in 1994.[55]

In June 2012 it became known that Indian president Pratibha Patil, near the end of her five-year term as president, commuted the death sentence of as many as 35 convicts to life imprisonment, including four on the same day (2 June), which created a storm of protest.[56] This caused further embarrassment to the government when it came to light that one of these convicts, Bandu Baburao Tidke—convicted for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl—had died five years previously from HIV.[57]

There have been calls for the introduction of the death penalty for rapists and molesters, especially since an infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape case and later crimes.

Notable Individuals executed and facing execution

Seema Gavit and Renuka Shinde are the only two women in India on death row, whose mercy pleas were rejected by the President after the Supreme Court of India confirmed their death sentence.[58]

As of July 2015, President Pranab Mukherjee had rejected 24 mercy pleas including that of Yakub Memon, Ajmal Kasab, Afzal Guru.[59][60]

On 27 April 1995, Auto Shankar was hanged in Salem Central Jail at Salem, Tamil Nadu. On 14 August 2004, Dhananjoy Chatterjee was hanged for the murder (following a rape) of 14-year-old Hetal Parekh[61] at her apartment residence in Bhowanipore, West Bengal on 5 March 1990.[62][63] Chatterjee, whose mercy plea was rejected on 4 August 2004, was kept at Alipore Central Jail in Kolkata, West Bengal for nearly 14 years.[64]

In 1997, Mahendra Nath Das was sentenced to death. He was infamous for having surrendered to police while holding a sword and the severed head of his murder victim.[65] In 2013, the Supreme Court commuted his sentence to life in prison.[66]

On 3 May 2010, a Mumbai Special Court convicted Ajmal Kasab of murder, waging war against India, possessing explosives and other charges.[67] On 6 May 2010 the same trial court sentenced him to death on four counts and to a life sentence on five other counts. Kasab was sentenced to death for attacking Mumbai and killing 166 people on 26 November 2008 along with nine other Pakistani terrorists. He was found guilty of 80 offences, including waging war against the nation, which is punishable by death.[68] Kasab's death sentence was upheld by the Bombay High Court on 21 February 2011.[69] and by the Supreme Court on 29 August 2012.[70] His mercy plea was rejected by the president on 5 November and the same was communicated to him on 12 November. On 21 November 2012, Kasab was hanged in the Yerwada Central Jail in Pune, Maharashtra.

Afzal Guru was convicted of conspiracy in connection with the 2001 Indian Parliament attack and was sentenced to death. The Supreme Court of India upheld the sentence, ruling that the attack "shocked the conscience of the society at large." Afzal was scheduled to be executed on 20 October 2006, but the sentence was stayed.[citation needed] He was hanged on 9 February 2013 at Delhi's Tihar Central Jail.[71][72]

Yakub Memon, convicted of 1993 Bombay bombings, was executed by hanging in Nagpur Central Jail at Nagpur, Maharashtra at around 6:30 am IST on 30 July 2015.[73][74] On 21 March 2013 the Supreme Court confirmed Memon's conviction and death sentence for conspiracy through financing the attacks. On 30 July 2013 the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice B. S. Chauhan and Justice Prafulla Chandra Pant rejected Memon's application for an oral hearing and dismissed his review petition by circulation. Indian President Pranab Mukherjee rejected Memon's petition for clemency on 11 April 2014. Memon then filed a curative petition to the Supreme Court, which was rejected on 21 July 2015. He became the first convict in 31 years to be hanged in Nagpur Central Jail and the fourth in India since 2004.[75]

On 5 March 2012 a sessions court in Chandigarh ordered the execution of Balwant Singh Rajoana, a convicted terrorist from Babbar Khalsa, for his involvement in the assassination of Chief Minister of Punjab Beant Singh.[76] The sentence was to be carried out on 31 March 2012 in Patiala Central Jail,[77] but the Centre stayed the execution on 28 March due to worldwide protests by Sikhs that the execution was unfair and amounted to a human rights violation.[78]

The four adult perpetrators of the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape who survived to trial were sentenced to death by hanging on 13 September 2013.[79] They were executed at 5:30 a.m. on 20 March 2020, after a lengthy legal battle.[80]

NCRB and ACHR statistics

Year Sentences given Sentences commuted to life Executed Convict President Ruling Party/Alliance
2001[81] 106 303 0 K. R. Narayanan National Democratic Alliance
2002 126 301 0 A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
2003 142 142 0
2004 125 179 1 Dhananjoy Chatterjee United Progressive Alliance
2005 164 1241 0
2006 129 1020 0
2007 186 881 0 Pratibha Patil
2008 126 46 0
2009 137 104 0
2010 97 62 0
2011 117 42 0
2012[82] 97 61 1 Ajmal Kasab Pranab Mukherjee
2013[83] 125 115 1 Afzal Guru
2014[84] 95 112 0 National Democratic Alliance
2015[85] 101 49 1 Yakub Memon
2016[86] 148 82 0
2017[87] 121 83 0 Ram Nath Kovind
2018[88] 186 65 0
2019 0
2020 4 Akshay Thakur, Mukesh Singh, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma

See also


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