Mixed Response on Abolition of Death Penalty in India

New Delhi
Mixed Response on Abolition of Death Penalty in India

A discussion on a Law Commission consultation paper on whether capital punishment should be retained or abolished today evoked a mixed response.

 While former President APJ Abdul Kalam, DMK leader Kanimozhi and former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, supported the abolition of death penalty, several others, including SC Bar Association's Dushyant Dave favoured retaining the capital punishment.

The Law Commission today organised a day-long consultation on the issue of abolition of death penalty in India, which was part of its over year-long process to garner views and suggestion before submitting its report to the Supreme Court.

Several of those who responded to the consultation paper, bourght out by Law Commission last year, and experts who participated in today's consultation sought a more unambiguous definition of 'rarest of rare' case where death penalty can be handed down by the courts.

In his inaugural address, Gopalkrishna Gandhi while opposing death penalty said ending life of a person was a "perk" available to a State.

He said the State should investigate crime and not use "shortcuts" like execution for "gratification".

"A man hanged cannot look back and say, oh I have been hanged," he said, supporting abolition of death penalty.

Justice (retd) Bilal Nazki said the principle of 'rarest of the rare' case was being applied arbitrarily in certain cases because people, including judges, carry "baggage".

He lamented that those being elevated to higher courts do not get education to deal with sensitive subjects.

Justice Nazki also blamed "media interference" which weighs on the minds of the judges.

Congress leader Manish Tewari, also a senior lawyer, said the President should not take a lot of time in deciding on clemency petitions as the case has gone through judicial and executive processes before reaching him.

He said the present incumbent at Rashtrapati Bhawan was more clear in his approach in dealing with such cases as compared to his predecessors when several such petitions were pending.

He said experts should discuss whether institutional process or personal predilection of the President should weigh in such cases.

Congress MP and former Union minister Shashi Tharoor proposed an educated debate on the issue in Parliament saying an informed decision was necessary on the subject.

Journalist Ashish Khetan said if agencies do not carry out proper investigation, they use death penalty as a "tool" to appease public sentiments.

Former President Kalam opposed death penalty in his views sent to the Law Commission. He had said deciding on capital punishment was one of the most difficult tasks for him as President.

Quoting from his book "Turning Points", Kalam said "one of the more difficult tasks for me as President was to decide on the issue of confirming capital punishment awarded by courts... To my surprise... Almost all cases which were pending had a social and economic bias."

According to the Commission, those who support retention of capital punishment felt its strong need in cases where the sanctity of the society was violated.

They have argued that those convicted for capital offences do not deserve an opportunity for reformation, and at times are indifferent to reform.

Retentionists, the Commission said, also believe that the State does not commit an act of revenge, making criminal law personal, but was engaging in the protection of the moral conscience of society.

Abolitionists argued that the issue deserves not an emotional but a rational evaluation. They believe that a less severe sentence will give offenders an opportunity to reform themselves after realising the magnitude of the crime.

For them, the primary purpose of the judicial system should be to reform than punish as nobody is "born criminal." 

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