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India cuts down on death sentences by 27% since 2016 • Maha most aggressive judicial death dealer • Only Tripura against death penalty

NLU Delhi second death penalty statistics report
NLU Delhi second death penalty statistics report

India reversed its trend of death row population spike since last year, with a drop of nearly 27% in the number of prisoners sentenced to death by sessions courts in 2017, according to the second NLU Delhi Death Penalty Report.

Download the full report here (PDF 2.6MB)

The number of death row prisoners reduced by 28 persons in one year as 40 criminals fewer this year were initially sentenced to death row.

The Supreme Court confirmed only 7 out of 109 death penalties the sessions courts handed down this year, after the high courts acquitted 35 prisoners and commuted the sentence of 53 of them.

Death penalty incidences by sessions courts for murder simpliciter and for murder involving sexual violence grew by an annual 12% to constitute 86% of the total crimes in 2017.

Terror offences, dacoity and murder, robbery and murder, kidnapping and murder, rioting and murder, and drug offences constituted the other 14% of crimes for which the courts handed down the death penalty.

State statistics

“Legislative efforts by one state to introduce the death penalty for certain crimes encouraged other states to adopt similar strategies,” the report states.

Karnataka, which had the fifth highest number of death row convicts last year led seven states that brought their figures down this year, including West Bengal which had reported the highest annual spike in death row convicts in 2016 and Uttar Pradesh which has the highest absolute number of convicts.

1 Karnataka 15
2 Uttar Pradesh 12
3 Madhya Pradesh 10
4 Gujarat 9
5 West Bengal 8
6 Kerala 2
7 Jharkhand 1

Maharashtra, which already had the second highest number of death row convicts last year, increased those numbers by 20 and topped the list of eight states that reported spikes.

1 Maharashtra 20
2 Punjab 7
3 Tamil Nadu 6
4 Haryana 4
5 Bihar 3
6 Chhatisgarh 2
7 Andhra Pradesh 1
8 Jammu & Kashmir 1

Maharashtra now has the highest death row population in India, overtaking Uttar Pradesh whose overall population is nearly twice that of Maharashtra.

Delhi, Uttarakhand, Assam, Orissa, Tripura and Telangana kept their figures constant since last year. In these states and in Gujarat the death penalty was handed down last year but none this year.

According to the report: “After Madhya Pradesh introduced legislation that prescribed the death penalty for the rape of minor girls, the governments of Rajasthan and Karnataka announced plans to bring similar legislation into force. The Uttar Pradesh government’s decision in 2017 to bring in the death penalty for dealing in spurious liquor relied on a similar move by the Bihar Government in 2016. Soon after the Uttar Pradesh Assembly passed the bill in December 2017, the government of Madhya Pradesh announced plans to introduce an equivalent bill.”

State responses to death penalty retention

The Law Commission of India (LC) had recommended abolition of the death penalty in its 262nd report released in August 2015.

Only Tripura was in favour of complete abolition, as per Right to Information (RTI) responses of state home departments to NLU Delhi.

Karnataka leaned toward abolition except in terror cases, Gujarat recommends retention of the death penalty of replacing it with life imprisonment that cannot be commuted or remitted and Delhi, Goa, Lakshwadeep, Chhatisgarh and Mizoram were in favour of complete retention of the death penalty.

The death penalty would stay on Indian statute books for at least another 50 years, a former Chief Justice of India (CJI) had predicted as part of NLU Delhi’s December 2017 opinion study on the death penalty.

In that recently published survey, NLU Delhi's death penalty centre had interviewed 60 former Supreme Court judges, which revealed a surprising belief in the necessity for torture by the police.

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