Capital punishment in India

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India retains capital punishment for a number of serious offences.[1] The Indian Supreme Court has allowed the death penalty to be carried out in four instances since 1995.

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 serving a life sentence.[2] The number of people executed in India since independence in 1947 is a matter of dispute; official government statistics claim that only 52 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.[3] In December 2007, India voted against a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.[4] In November 2012, India again upheld its stance on capital punishment by voting against the UN General Assembly draft resolution seeking to ban death penalty.[5]


In colonial India, death was prescribed as one of the punishments in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC),[2] which listed a number of capital crimes. It remained in effect after independence in 1947.

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

The Supreme Court of India ruled in 1983 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, Supreme Court has recommended the death penalty be extended to those found guilty of committing "honour killings", which deserve to be a capital crime.[6] The Supreme Court also recommended death sentences to be imposed on police officials who commit police brutality in the form of encounter killings.[7]

An appeal filed in 2013 by Vikram Singh and another person facing the death sentence questioned the constitutional validity of Section 364A of the Indian Penal Code.[8]

Other legislation[edit]

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 an inhumane practice involving 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.[9]

The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 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[10] In 1989, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act 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".[11][12] The death penalty can also be handed down to repeat rape offenders under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013.

Capital offenses[edit]

Section under IPC or other law Nature of crime
120B of IPC Being a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit a capital offense
121 of IPC Waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of 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 offense
302, 303 of IPC Murder
305 of IPC Abetting the suicide of a minor, mentally ill person, or intoxicated person
Part II Section 4 of Prevention of Sati Act 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 Drug trafficking in cases of repeat offenses
396 of IPC Banditry with murder - in cases where a group of five or more individuals commit banditry 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.[13]
Bombay Prohibition (Gujarat Amendment) Bill, 2009 In Gujarat only - Manufacture and sale of poisoned alcohol which results in death(s).[14][15]

Clemency in the Indian Constitution[edit]

After the award of the death sentence by a sessions (trial) court,the sentence must be confirmed by a High Court to make it final.[2] Once confirmed, the condemned convict has the option of appealing to the Supreme Court. If this is not possible, or if the Supreme Court turns down the appeal or refuses to hear the petition, the condemned person can submit a ‘mercy petition’ to the President of India and the Governor of the State.[16]

Power of the President[edit]

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

Constitutional power[edit]

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[edit]

The execution of death sentence in India is carried out by two modes, namely hanging by the neck till death and being executed by firing squad.


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).[17] 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 Army Act and Air Force Act also provide for the execution of the death sentence.[18] 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.


About 26 mercy petitions are pending before the president, some of them from 1992. These include those of Khalistan Liberation Force terrorist Davinder Singh Bhullar, the cases of slain forest brigand Veerappan's four associates—Simon, Gnanprakasham, Meesekar Madaiah and Bilvendran—for killing 21 policemen in 1993; and one Praveen Kumar for killing four members of his family in Mangalore in 1994.[19] On 27 April 1995, Auto Shankar was hanged in Salem, Tamil Nadu.

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.

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] Guru was hanged on 9 February 2013 at Delhi's Tihar Jail.[20][21]

On 3 May 2010, a Mumbai Special Court convicted Ajmal Kasab of murder, waging war on India, possessing explosives, and other charges.[22] 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 Pakistani terrorists. He was found guilty of 80 offences, including waging war against the nation, which is punishable by the death penalty.[23] Kasab's death sentence was upheld by the Bombay High Court on 21 February 2011.[24] and by the Supreme Court on 29 August 2012.[25] 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.

On 5 March 2012, a sessions court in Chandigarh ordered the execution of Balwant Singh Rajoana, a terrorist from Babbar Khalsa, convicted for his involvement in the assassination of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh.[26] The sentence was to be carried out on 31 March 2012 in Patiala Central Jail,[27] 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.[28]

On 13 March 2012, a court in Sirsa, Haryana, condemned to death the 22-year-old Nikka Singh for raping and strangling to death a 75-year-old woman on 11 February 2011.[29] "The imposition of the death sentence was most appropriate in this case. The court has held that it was a cold-blooded murder and where rape was committed on an innocent and hapless old woman," said Neelima Shangla, the Sirsa additional district and sessions judge.[30] "The rape and cold-blooded murder of a woman, who was of grandmother’s age of the accused, falls in the rarest of the rare case." The court held that Nikka Singh was a "savage" whose "existence on earth was a grave danger to society" as he had also attempted to rape two other village women.[31]

A special mention here is to the 650-page written judgment in the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi, in which the Delhi High Court panel said, "No excuse or circumstance can . . . mitigate such a treacherous and cowardly act where a defenseless woman was cruelly slaughtered by the 'guardians' of her safety."

The judgment condemned "the most inhuman mode of killing" and said, "Two persons crowding in before an elderly woman and mercilessly pumping into her not one or two but as many as 30 bullets is the ghastly scene to be conjured in the mind's eye."

Kehar Singh, was convicted and hanged on 6 January 1989, for conspiracy in the plot of the Indira Gandhi assassination, carried out by Satwant Singh and Beant Singh.[32]

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, including four on the same day (2 June), which created a storm of protest.[33] 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 already died five years previously from HIV.[34]

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

As of 31 December 2013, there were 382 convicts on death row in India. States with the maximum number of prisoners on death row were Uttar Pradesh (82), Karnataka (43), Maharashtra (41) and Bihar (39).[35]

NCRB Statistics[edit]

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) is an Indian government agency, created in 1986, responsible for collecting and analysing crime data as defined by the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The NCRB has documented death penalties and executions in India since 1995, as part of its prison statistics. There are no collated figures available for executions before 1995.

According to the NCRB, 21 people have been executed in India since 1995. In the decade between 2001 and 2011, 1,455 convicts or an average of 132.27 convicts per year were given the death penalty. During the same period, sentences for 4,060 convicts were commuted from death penalty to life imprisonment. The NCRB does not clarify whether these figures refer to sentences passed by a trial court or those whose sentences have been upheld by a High Court or the Supreme Court, or those whose mercy petitions are pending or have been rejected.

Year Sentences given Sentences commuted to life Executed President Ruling Party/Alliance
1995 13 Shankar Dayal Sharma Indian National Congress
1996 1 United Front
1997 1
1998 3 K. R. Narayanan National Democratic Alliance
1999 0
2000 0
2001 106 303 0
2002 126 301 0 A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
2003 142 142 0
2004 125 179 1 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 97[36] 61 1 Pranab Mukherjee
2013 125[37] 115 1
2014 0 Bharatiya Janata Party

List of people executed[edit]

List of death row inmates[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Majumder, Sanjoy. "India and the death penalty." BBC News 4 August 2005.
  2. ^ a b c VENKATESAN, V. (7 September 2012). "A case against the death penalty". Frontline. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  3. ^ "'Number of executions much higher than 52.'" Times of India. 10 March 2005.
  4. ^ "General Assembly GA/10678 Sixty-second General Assembly Plenary 76th & 77th Meetings". ANNEX VI. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  5. ^ "General Assembly GA/11331 , Sixty-seventh General Assembly Plenary 60th Meeting". 20 December 2012. ANNEX XIII. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
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  7. ^ "Hang cops involved in fake encounters: Supreme Court". 2011-08-08. Retrieved 2013-04-23. 
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  10. ^ "The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989." (PDF). Chapter II , Section 2 (1). Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  11. ^ "BBC News - India president approves tough rape laws". 2013-02-04. Retrieved 2013-04-23. 
  12. ^ "Notorious Attack Spurs India to Approve New Rape Laws". New York Times. 3 February 2013. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Gujarat introduces death penalty for toxic alcohol
  15. ^ Bengal hooch tragedy: Alcohol among major global killers
  16. ^ "Supreme Court Judgement, Devender Pal Singh Bhullar versus State of N.C.T. of Delhi". pp. 43–46. 
  17. ^ "The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 Act No. 2 of 1974" (PDF). 25 January 1974. Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  18. ^ "Consultation paper on mode of execution of death sentence and incidental matters" (PDF). Law commission of India. Retrieved 29 July 2013. 
  19. ^ 5 May 2009 : Centre sends final opinion to President on 27 mercy petitions
  20. ^ "After Afzal Guru's hanging, curfew, tight security in Kashmir Valley". 2013-02-09. Retrieved 2013-04-23. 
  21. ^ "Parliament House attack convict Afzal Guru hanged to death at 8am - Times Of India". Retrieved 2013-04-23. 
  22. ^ Irani, Delnaaz (3 May 2010). "Surviving Mumbai gunman convicted over attacks". BBC News. Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
  23. ^ "Bombay HC upholds Kasab's death sentence". 
  24. ^ "Kasab waged war against India: court". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 22 February 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  25. ^ "Supreme court confirms death sentence for Kasab". The Hindu (Pune, India). 29 August 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2012. 
  26. ^ "Punjab govt to challenge order to hang Beanta's killer". The Times Of India. 27 March 2012. 
  27. ^ "Punjab on high alert as court orders execution of Beant Singh's killer". The Times Of India. 27 March 2012. 
  28. ^ "Beant killer won’t be hanged on March 31, News - Nation". Mumbai Mirror. Retrieved 2013-04-23. 
  29. ^ "Chandigarh: Youth gets death for rape, murder of 75-year-old woman : North, News - India Today". 2012-03-13. Retrieved 2013-04-23. 
  30. ^ "Youth gets death for rape, murder of 75-year-old". The Times Of India. 14 March 2012. 
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ "President Pratibha Patil goes on mercy overdrive". The Times Of India. 22 June 2012. 
  34. ^ "President Pratibha Patil gives life to dead man". The Times Of India. 23 June 2012. 
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  • [1] Lethal lottery: The Death Penalty in India -a study of Supreme Court judgments in death penalty cases 1950-2006 (summary report)
  • [2] Lethal lottery: The Death Penalty in India -a study of Supreme Court judgments in death penalty cases 1950-2006 (complete report)

External links[edit]