A total of 371 convicts are on death row by the end of 2017, which is 27 per cent lower than that in 2016 when 399 persons were awarded death sentence.
The statistics are part of second edition of ‘Death Penalty in India, Annual Statistics Report’ Published by Centre on death penalty, National Law University.
The report is a result of extensive research and analysis which involved filing of 200 applications under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTIs) covering all prison and home departments, high courts, and Governor’s Offices across India.The numbers take into account death sentences awarded by sessions courts, and acquittals and commutations by appellate courts.
The total number of prisoners on death row as on 31st December, 2017, stands at 371, which includes 109 persons sentenced to death by sessions court compared to 149 in year 2016.
Of these, 53 have been commuted, 35 resulted in acquittals and 11 confirmed by high courts, seven death cases were confirmed by the Supreme Court. Of the 7 confirmations, 1 was a criminal appeal with 4 prisoners and 2 were review petitions with 3 prisoners. The Supreme Court did not commute or acquit any prisoners in 2017.
States where death penalty was imposed in 2016 but not in 2017 are Assam, Delhi, Gujarat, Odisha, Telangana, Tripura.
In the statewise distribution of persons sentenced to death in 2017, the highest was in Karnataka with 23, followed by 19 in Uttar Pradesh, 13 in Tamil Nadu 11 in Bihar and eight in Rajasthan, six each in Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.
On the nature of crime of those sentenced to death, 43 persons were awarded capital punishment for murder involving sexual violence. This figure stood at 23 in year 2016.
51 persons were sentenced to death for murder simpliciter in 2017 compared to 87 in 2016.
In 2017, the high courts in India disposed cases involving 99 prisoners, 26 more than last year. High Court acquittals saw a significant increase in 2017, whereas the number of confirmations reduced. Overall the Karnataka High Court disposed 26 cases involving 26 prisoners (highest among all the high courts in India) - confirming the death sentences of 4 prisoners, commuting 10, and acquitting 12.
The report also talks of the Supreme Court 2015 verdict in case titled Union of India v Sriharan, wherein it was laid down that life imprisonment can mean imprisonment for the remainder of one’s natural life.
In 2017, 10 out of 53 prisoners whose death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment were sentenced under the Sriharan dicta – one prisoner sentenced to 30 years in jail, one to 20 years and one for whole life. In these cases, the respective High Courts stipulated a fixed term during which the prisoner could not be granted statutory remission. In one case the Allahabad High Court ruled out possibility of statutory remission for the remainder of convict’s life.
SC decided only one appeal on death penalty in 2017.
Only one criminal appeal involving the death penalty was decided by the Supreme Court in 2017 which is the most highlighted 2012 Delhi Gangrape case titled Mukesh v Govt of NCT of Delhi wherein the Court upheld the death sentences of four accused persons confirmed by the Delhi High Court in March 2014. In comparison, the Supreme Court decided seven criminal appeals in 2016, confirming none, commuting seven, and acquitting three prisoners.
9 mercy pleas disposed of by Prez in 2017
When it comes to President’s clemency, overall, the President of India disposed 9 mercy petitions during 2017, as compared to 6 during 2016. In 2017, 5 out of the 9 disposed petitions were rejected and the other 4 were commuted. In comparison, in 2016, only one prisoner was commuted by the President and mercy petitions of 5 prisoners were rejected.
2017 also saw a petition filed by Rishi Malhotra challenging hanging as a mode of execution of Death Sentence. Notice stands issued by the Chief Justice of India.
“2017 has been a year that presents significant challenges for the study of the death penalty in India. While there has been a drop of nearly 27% in the number of prisoners sentenced to death by Sessions Courts in 2017 (compared to 2016), there have been significant legislative developments that expand the role of the death penalty in the Indian penological imagination,” says the report.
Read the Report Here