States with long history of conflict between government forces and militant groups have not seen spurt in death sentences

sentenceA new report, “Award of Death Sentences and Commutations to Life Imprisonment: Analysis of Statistical Trends in India Based on Prison Statistics Published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for the years 1998-2013”, studies trends relating to the award of death sentence and commutation of such sentences to life imprisonment across India during the period 1998-2013. Data was also sought for the period 2013 and 2014 by filing right to information (RTI) application. However, the data could not be obtained because they are still being compiled. Prepared by Venkatesh Nayak, Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), Delhi, the report has been prepared on the eve of the Round Table on Death Penalty, organized by the Law Commission of India in New Delhi on Saturday, July 11, 2015. Excerpts:

India is in a minority group of countries on the planet that retain capital punishment on their statute books. According to a compilation attempted in 2009, criminal offences under various laws attract the death sentence in India.

Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC):

  • Criminal conspiracy for committing any of the following offences – Section 120-B
  • Treason, for waging war against the Government of India – Section 121
  • Abetment of mutiny actually committed – Section 132
  • Perjury resulting in the conviction and death of an innocent person – Section 194
  • Threatening or inducing any person to give false evidence resulting in the conviction and death of an innocent person – Section 195A
  • Murder – Section 302
  • Murder committed by a life convict – Section 303
  • Abetment of a suicide by a minor, insane person or intoxicated person – Section 305
  • Attempted murder by a serving life convict – Section 307(2)
  • Kidnapping for ransom – Section 364 and
  • Dacoity with murder – Section 396.

Additionally, the following special laws also prescribe death penalty for various offences: Army Act, 1950; Navy Act, 1950; Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force Act, 1992; Defence and Internal Security of India Act, 1971 ; Defence of India Act, 1971; Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987; Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Prevention) Act, 1985; Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987; Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002; Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989; Explosive Substances Act, 1908; Arms Act, 1959; Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. Several States have their own laws prescribing death penalty under special laws.

Upon conviction and award of death sentence, an individual accused of committing one or more heinous crimes can all the way go up to the Supreme Court challenging the sentence awarded. In many cases the death sentence is commuted to life imprisonment either by the Constitutional Courts or by the President or the Governor as the case may be. The instances where the President or the Governor commutes a death sentence to a life term in prison while deciding mercy petitions is becoming rarer while Courts are commuting more death sentences into life terms in prison in the course of deciding appeals against death sentences.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs is responsible for collecting crime-related statistics from the stage of filing first information reports (FIRs) to judgements of trial courts. The NCRB sources this data from the crime records bureaus in the States (SCRBs) which in turn collect data from similar agencies set up at the district level. The 14,360+ police stations across the country are the basic source of crime statistics collated across the country.

Thanks to the implementation of the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) instituted by the Central Government in 2012, all ministries and departments are now required to publish datasets (statistical or other kinds of data) that they have in their possession which is not likely to cause harm if disclosed. More than 50 ministries have uploaded hundreds of datasets on the newly opened website: http://data.gov.in. This is indeed proactive disclosure of information by government departments above and beyond the requirement of Section 4(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. Datasets for 2001-12 and 2013 on this subject are displayed on the Open Data Portal.

Main Findings

As many as 2,052 individuals were awarded capital punishment by courts in India between 1998 and 2013. Courts awarded the death sentence to 1,677 individuals during the first 13 years of the 21st century. On an average more than 128 persons were sentenced to death per year during this period. Unfortunately, the gender break up of these figures is not available in the NCRB datasets.

The most number of death sentences handed down in any given year was 2007 when courts across India punished 186 individuals in this manner. In 2000, 165 individuals received death sentences while 164 individuals received this punishment in 2005. 1999 (155 individuals) and 2003 (142 individuals) take the fourth and the fifth place on this list of years in which the most number of death sentences were awarded.

The least number of death sentences were awarded in 1998 (55 individuals). Ninety seven persons each were awarded the capital punishment during the years 2010 and 2013. The years 2011 (117 individuals) and 2013 (125 individuals) figure at fourth and fifth places, respectively, on the list of years when the least number of death sentences were handed down by courts.

State/UT-wise trends

An individual convicted of one or more crimes inviting a sentence of death was more likely to be so punished in the State of Uttar Pradesh. With 506 individuals awarded the death sentences during the 16 year period, Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for almost a quarter (24.65%) of the total figure calculated for the 16 year period. This figure could be higher because data is not available for the year 1998 in the NCRB datasets.

With 178 individuals so punished, Bihar stands 2nd in the list of States/UTs where the most number of death sentences were awarded by courts during the period 1998-2013. In Madhya Pradesh 162 individuals received the death sentence placing it 3rd on the list of States/UTs. In 2013, Madhya Pradesh topped the list of States/UTs where the most number of death sentences (22) were awarded.

Maharashtra takes 4th place with 160 individuals receiving capital punishment during this period. Tamil Nadu is at the 5th place with 147 individuals receiving capital punishment during the 16 year period.

Three States, namely, Chhattisgarh (carved out of the erstwhile undivided Madhya Pradesh), Jharkhand (carved out of the erstwhile undivided Bihar) and Uttarakhand (carved out of the erstwhile Uttar Pradesh) came into existence towards the end of the year 2000. Amongst them, Jharkhand takes the top position with 91 individuals being handed the death sentence during the last 13 years (2001- 2013). In Chhattisgarh only 29 persons were awarded capital punishment during the same period and in Uttarakhand this figure was 18.

Interestingly, in Karnataka, no death sentences were handed down between 1998- 2003. All 107 death sentences were handed down during the years 2008 (22), 2010 (19), 2005 and 2007 (14 each), 2006 (13), 2012 (8), 2004 (7) and 2009 (5). In 2013, 4 individuals received the capital punishment in Karnataka.

Similarly, no death sentences were awarded in Gujarat during the period 1998-2000. All 62 death sentences were awarded during the years 2004 (19), 2011 (14), 2005 and 2009 (8 each), 2003 (5) and 2001 and 2012 (3 each). In 2013, 2 individuals received the death sentence in this State.

A person was least likely to receive the death sentence in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Sikkim and the UTs of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Lakshadweep as they have not recorded any such instance during the 16 year period.

It is also interesting to note that the States which have a long history of conflict between government forces and militant groups, have not seen any kind of spurt in the number of death sentences being awarded. Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur where the Armed Forces Special Powers Acts (AFSPA) are being enforced due to militant exigencies the number of death sentences awarded are much fewer compared to states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland where AFSPA has been extended repeatedly, have not witnessed a single instance of death sentence being handed down to anybody. Jharkhand is the only exception where the high numbers coincide with the existence of militant activity. The situation in this State needs deeper research and investigation which is not possible using the NCRB’s database.

Trends in commutation:

During the years between 2001 and 2013, the death sentences of 4,497 persons are said to have been commuted to life imprisonment. This category of data is not available in the NCRB’s reports for the remaining 3 years included in this study. While 2,019 individuals received such commutation in the States, 2,478 individuals are said to have received this benefit in the UTs. This is where the dataset disclosed by NCRB becomes questionable. While 1,573 individuals were sentenced to death in the States 6 during this period, only 104 persons were awarded capital punishments in the UTs. The total number of persons awarded the death sentence in the UTs during the previous years, namely 1998-2000 is a mere 27.

The inflated figure of 2,478 is due to the NCRB’s reporting of commutations in Delhi at 2,470 – 919 in 2005, 806 in 2006 and 726 in 2009. The total number of death sentences awarded to persons in Delhi during the 16 year period is a mere 102. Unless it can be shown that the remaining persons were all convicted prior to 1998, the commutation figures become unreliable. Perhaps they include commutations of other kinds of lesser sentences. Similarly, the number of commutations ordered across all States at 2,019, is far higher than the number of death sentences awarded, i.e., 1,573 between 2001 and 2013. During the previous three years included in this study (1998-2000), only 348 death sentences were awarded across the States.

deathTherefore, unless NCRB clarifies that the data is accurate and also publicises the data for award of death sentences from the time of independence, it would be difficult to make sense of the dataset relating to commutations. Nevertheless, the starkly visible trends are presented in the table given here.

Death sentences equalled the number of commutation orders in the States of Jammu and Kashmir (22:22) and Goa (1:1). The dataset does not reveal whether there is a direct correlation between the two figures or if the commutation orders relate to death sentences awarded to individuals much earlier than the period under study.

Although no death sentences were reported from Lakshadweep for the entire 16 year period, two commutation orders were issued- one each in 2002 and 2007.

For full report click HERE

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