Is India Scared of Executions?

As of September 01, 2011


Yesterday, I was came across a newscast on the stay order of Madras(shouldn’t we say Chennai???) High Court on the execution of the three convicts of Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. While the honorable President rejected the mercy petitions in August 11, Tamilnadu legislative assembly passed a unanimous resolution asking the government to commute the death sentences which was followed by the HC stay order. This reminded me of the numerous mercy petitions that are currently in pending in various courts, MHA and President over the death sentences already declared. It also brings in a question in my mind that why is executing capital punishment so difficult in this country? And if the country is so much against it, then why do we have it altogether when we cannot exercise it? In addition, there are three major concerns, I would like to discuss further.

  1. Why is there a biased morality when it comes to mercy petitions for the convicts?
  2. Does the government need to revise the considerations on mercy petitions? Why is the country not clear on its stand on death penalties?
  3. Can our country afford to keep such petitions pending that take a toll on country’s exchequer (which is essentially tax payer’s money)?


The senior counsel of the three convicts of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, which includes eminent lawyers Ram Jethmalani, R Vaigai and Colin Gonsalves, argued citing violation of Article 21 of the constitution which cites “Protection of Life and Personal Liberty”. On the other hand, the human rights organizations express concerns on death penalties as they violate a person’s right to live. However, this is looking only on the one side of the coin. If we look into the crimes executed by the convicts, it mainly involves homicides and murders. From the victim’s perspective, the convict has also violated the victim’s “right to live”. It is amazing how HROs, polity and the supporters of the convicts completely overlook this perspective while lobbying for the mercy petition in the court or to the President.

Looking into the history,India has a terrible record in executing the executions (not something to moan about but delving into further details reveals it as a terrible record). Looking into the number of death sentences awarded, there is no concrete data available. However, according to Amnesty International, more than 378 death sentences have been ordered as a total of six years between 2001 and 2010 but none of them have been executed. Last execution that took place in the country was seven years back when Dhananjoy Chatterjee was executed in a rape+murder case. As per the latest news, there are 17 mercy petitions pending before the President (this does not include Afzal Guru since his petition is still decaying in the offices of MHA and yet to be forwarded to the President). The current president has, so far, disposed off three petitions – Mahendra Nath Das, Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar and the three assassins of Rajiv Gandhi. However, if someone feels that the story ends once the President rejects the petition, hold-your-breath. All the three rejected petitions have found rescue squads in their respective states. While Guwahati HC stayed the execution of Mahendra Nath Das even after President’s rejection; Tamilnadu HC stayed the execution of the three assassins by eight weeks. On the other hand, stage is being set for the clemency petition of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar as the Punjab CM Prakash Singh Badal wrote to the President to re-examine the mercy plea of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar. Looking at the history, it won’t be surprising if Punjab HC does the Guwahati and Tamilnadu. These are just the three of the 17 pending petitions. And we are not considering the ones that await recommendation of MHA, like that of Afzal Guru. There are more in line like Ajmal Kasab, whose petition is currently in Supreme Court. Looking at the route, if SC rejects the plea, the petition will go to MHA for recommendation after which it will reach the President’s table. The entire process is easily expected to take at least 10 years.

The question is why this country is having such a high level of sympathy for gruesome murderers? Killing, in any form, is a violation of a person’s right to live. By morality or by religion, none of the human beings have any right on another one’s life. However, when one human violates this right to the other, does the former deserve enough for a consideration on the same right? Rights are always accompanied by duties. If we enjoy the right to live, it is our duty to let others live. Keeping such convicts alive, that too because of this loophole in the system, can set a dangerous precedent and a potential threat for the national security where the murderers will be sure that they would be allowed to live for free (inside the jail) for many more years, no matter how grave their crime is. The mercy petitions also questions the morals of the people involved in filing these petitions. While having sympathy for these convicts since they share the same state or religion can be understood, but having blind sympathy that surmounts all ethics and values is what is baffling. The supremacy of human life should not hold true in these situations.

The concern here is not only on the moral grounds but also on the financial grounds. In May 2011, the ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) sent a bill of Rs.10 crore to the Maharashtra government behind the expenditure on guarding Ajmal Kasab. Similar, probably little less, goes for Afzal Guru as well. Let us just say Rs.7 crore. Now, multiply this by 10 years. That amounts to whopping Rs.170 crores combined, only for two of the convicts. If we add the three convicts of Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, it will multiply, probably, 1.4 times, which means Rs.238 crores. The question is, can our country afford to keep these convicts for such a long time? If we divide Rs.238 crores by our population, it would come to be roughly Rs.2 per head. It would be interesting to do a survey and ask people if they would like to give Rs.2 to the government for guarding terrorists like Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru (or for that matter, any grisly murderer). Anyone wonder, what will be the answer?

To conclude, it’s time, the country should clear its stand on executions and show the convicts their right place. There is also a need to fix a timeline for President to decide on mercy petitions and a clear law that states the President’s decision as supreme and non-appealable. This will help in faster resolutions of the cases and will save a considerable amount of taxpayers’ money which is wasted in harboring the evils of the society.


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