In 2016, the Judgments of the Apex Court which considered the Criminal Appeals by Death row convicts, raised a suspicion whether it is becoming more and more reluctant to award/confirm death penalty. In the month of September 2016, we saw the Apex Court setting aside death penalty in seven cases in a row. The only death penalty confirmed by the Apex Court in 2016, was in October, when it dismissed the review petition filed by an Ex-Cop whose death sentence was confirmed by the Court.
The Supreme Court, in December has also agreed to examine whether the High Court of Delhi has jurisdiction to entertain a plea against rejection of mercy petition of a death row convict, who was convicted by courts in another state. In Nirbhaya Case, one of the two amicus curiae appointed by the Court, has submitted before the Court that there is no evidence to prove conspiracy in the Nirbhaya rape and murder case and the death penalty imposed ought to be revisited.
As far as High Courts are concerned, the Rajasthan High Court has upheld the death sentence imposed on a man convicted of sexual harassment and murder of an 8-year-old girl, terming the crime “rarest of the rare”. The Bombay High court commuted the death sentence imposed on a man accused of killing his wife, daughter and mother in law, into sentence for life imprisonment. The Allahabad High Court has commuted the death sentence awarded by a trial court for a man accused of raping and murdering a 4-year-old girl, to life imprisonment. Kerala High Court has recently commuted the death sentence of Ripper Jayanandan to Life Imprisonment specifically till the end of his life.
The NIA Court of Hyderabad has awarded death penalty to Yaseen Bhatkal and four other Indian Mujahideen operators, who were accused of perpetrating two consecutive bomb explosions that took place at Dilsukhnagar market in 2013 in Hyderabad.
The Centre on the Death Penalty published Death Penalty India Report which found that most in death row are backward, uneducated and first time offenders with no previous crime history. Another finding was, that out of 1,486 death sentences imposed by the trial courts, only 4.9% (73 prisoners) remained on death row after the appeal in the Supreme Court was decided.
In November 2016, India voted against a UN resolution to establish a moratorium on death penalty, stating that it contravened statutory law in India. 115 countries had voted in favour of the resolution. No executions were carried out in India in 2015 and 2016.
Following are the judgments in death penalty cases decided by the Supreme Court.
September 1: Triple murder case (Shyam Singh vs. Madhya Pradesh) A three-judge Bench of the apex court comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Prafulla C. Pant and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit commuted the death penalty awarded to one Shyam Singh from Madhya Pradesh after he was found guilty of committing parenticide and murdering his nephew. Read Live Law report and Judgment here.
September 8: Rape-cum-murder of 7 year old (Rajesh vs. State of Madhya Pradesh) The same Bench acquitted a rape-cum-murder accused of murder charges and upheld life imprisonment and conviction under Section 376 (2) (f) and 377 IPC. Read Live Law report and Judgment here.
September 15: Soumya rape-cum-murder case (Kerala) (Govindaswamy vs. State of Kerala): The Bench acquitted Govindachami, the accused in Soumya rape-cum-murder case, of murder charges, while upholding the conviction and sentence under Section 376 IPC for rape and other offences. Read Live Law report and Judgment here.
September 15: Multiple murder case (Ghulam Mohi-Ud-Din Wani vs. State of J & K) The Bench commuted death penalty of one Ghulam Mohi-Ud-Din Wani from Jammu and Kashmir, who was convicted for his involvement in the death of one Mohd. Yousuf Ganai and his family members, and also for the murder of one Mohd. Ishaq Bhat. Read Live Law report and Judgment here.
September 18: Rape-cum-murder of 7 year old (Tattu Lodhi @ Pancham Lodhi vs. State of Madhya Pradesh) Another SC Bench comprising Justice Chelameswar, Justice Shiva Kirti Singh and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre commuted the death sentence awarded by a trial court and confirmed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh for a man accused of raping and murdering a 7-year-old girl, to life imprisonment with the further direction that he shall not be released from prison till he completes the actual period of 25 years of imprisonment. Read Live Law report and Judgment here.
September 21: Rape-cum-murder of 7 year old (Kamlesh @ Ghanti vs. State of Madhya Pradesh) The SC Bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi commuted the death penalty imposed by the trial court and the high court on Kamlesh @ Ghanti, who was found guilty of raping and murdering a 7-year-old girl. Read Live Law report and Judgment here.
September 23: Murder of wife and five kids (Dhal Singh Dewangan vs. State of Chhattisgarh) The Bench acquitted Dhal Singh Dewangan, who was sentenced to death by the Chhattisgarh High Court for killing his wife and five minor children by a 2:1 majority. Justices Ranjan Gogoi and U.U. Lalit have set aside the high court judgment that confirmed the death penalty while Justice Prafulla C. Pant upheld the judgment. Read Live Law report and Judgment here.
October 4: Review plea against Death penalty dismissed [BA Umesh vs. Registrar, High Court of Karnataka] The Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi confirming the death penalty imposed on a rape-cum-murder convict Umesh, by dismissing his review petition against the dismissal of appeals by the apex court in 2011. The apex court Bench comprising Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice A.K. Patnaik in 2011, had dismissed the appeal against confirmation of death penalty imposed on B.A. Umesh by the Karnataka High Court for the rape-cum-murder of a housewife. Read Live Law report and Judgment here.
This article has been made possible because of financial support from Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation.