As the Allahabad HC commutes the death sentence of Surinder Koli (see the full details here), the infamous 'Nithari killer', we take a quick look at how he escaped the death row. Outlook's cover story in the issue dated December 15, 2014, The Daily Noose (by Uttam Sengupta), had examined the incidence of death sentence in the country with special reference to the Nithari case.
Sengupta made the following observations on the case:
- Koli was arrested seven years ago and convicted for allegedly kidnapping, raping and cannibalising 16 girls and women in a house on the outskirts of Delhi (where he worked as a domestic help).
- During the conduction of the trial, the Supreme Court had refused to reconsider the thin evidence against him, presumably on the assumption that the lower courts would have already weighed it.
- As happens with so many cases, the trial by the media had already declared him guilty, which might have gone on to shape the turn of events.
- The conviction was based on his own confession, but the parts where he talked about police torture and threats received against deviating from the statement, were not taken into consideration. Ironically, his confession was recorded in English, a language he didn't even understand.
- An important role was played by Moninder Singh Pandher, Koli's employer, who was a doctor and had been accused in organ trade cases in 1997. As investigations revealed, the victims' bodies ad been cut with surgical precision and indicated a strong possibility of organ trade, as forensic experts said. But there is nothing much to suggest the CBI investigated this angle at all, barring a passing reference by the HC (reported by a Hindi daily in '07).
The article also quotes a study by the National Law University conducted on 400 convicts on death row across the nation, shows that
- A majority on death row are first-time offenders
- Direct evidence missing in most of the cases
- Confessions extracted through torture relied for conviction
- Death row prisoners are kept together. Lights are not switched off in death row cells.
- Convicts on death row receive poor legal assistance
- Convicts on the death row are not allowed to work in prison
- Padlocks on death row are rattled at regular intervals
- Prisoners on the death row fed on a richer diet
- A majority spend 10-20 years before the mercy petition is rejected
- Trial courts under pressure to ‘act tough’, award more deaths
- A majority of convicts on death row are poor, Dalits, minorities, tribals
- Convicts do not have access to quality counsellors, lawyers, psychiatrist
In light of all this, should the cases of death row convicts in the country be reconsidered?