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At an event peppered with the who’s who of the legal fraternity yesterday, the Centre on the Death Penalty at National Law University of Delhi (NLUD) unveiled its comprehensive report titled, “Death Penalty India Report”.
The function was attended by Supreme Court Justice Madan B Lokur who was also a part of the panel discussion. Other attendees at the event included former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan, ex Supreme Court Judge Aftab Alam, former Kerala High Court Judge and Senior Advocate R Basant, Justice Dr. S Muralidhar, and Justice BD Ahmed.
The event saw the release of the report and a presentation over the contents of it which was made by Dr. Anup Surendranath, Director of the NLUD Centre and author of the report. Dr. Surendranath elaborated on the research methodology, review & analysis of the research and the legal background of the capital punishment in India.
EXCERPTS FROM THE REPORT
The Report, that has been encapsulated in two volumes, provides a state-wise breakup of the number of persons incarcerated to death and goes on to list the statutes (other than the Indian Penal Code) that prescribe the death penalty. Some of these include the The Air Force Act 1950, The Arms Act 1959, The Border Security Force Act 1958, The Geneva Conventions Act 1960, The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act) 1989 and so on.
The Report further gives statistics on the status of cases regarding death penalty and mercy petition that are pending before the Supreme Court as well as various High Courts in the country. It also provides a table of Special Leave Petitions dismissed by the Supreme Court in limine since 2014 till January 2016 and the judges who passed these decisions.
Punctuated with interesting quotes and phrases on death penalty and the harrowing consequences of incarceration (sometimes wrongful), the Report has extensive data on the names and details of prisoners on death row who’s mercy petition has either been rejected or is pending before the Courts. There is other ancillary information on the delays in judicial process and also the number of states where criminal trials have been concluded at an extremely short duration.
Both the volumes conclude by discussing the nature of crimes committed by these prisoners, their socio-economic profile, the kind of legal assistance rendered and the overall effect that the sentencing has on them as well as their kith & kin.
THE PANEL DISCUSSION
After the Report was presented, there was a panel discussion and apart from Justice Lokur, other panelists included Nithya Ramakrishnan a practicing advocate in the Supreme Court and Dr. Surendranath himself. The discussion was moderated by Omair Ahmad, Books Editor at The Wire.
A wide range of topics were taken up which included the state of legal assistance in India and how effective legal aid is mostly denied to the prisoners. Justice Lokur lamented,
“Legal aid has become a joke these days. No one seems to have faith in the legal aid lawyer for many reasons.”
He also commented on how law students should be initiated into NGOs involved in effective dispensation of legal assistance. When the floor was thrown open to questions, Jaising wanted to know from Justice Lokur on the establishment of various committees in the Courts so as to tackle these human rights issues.
Responding to this, Justice Lokur said that the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal had floated a similar idea of setting up committees of judges and academics in 2007-08 to analyse judgments given by the Court. He added that while Delhi University had recently done a study on Motor Vehicle cases, more such initiatives ought to be given a fillip.
“Frankly, I do not know why these ideas have not taken off. There has to be a will to get this thing done and till that time, it will only remain an idea.”
Justice Muralidhar wanted to know about the role of probation and reformatory methods in prisons to which Dr. Surendranath replied that as per their findings and experiences, implementation of such measures left ‘much to be desired’.
“There is a real absence of probationary officers in the prisons that we visited. It just goes on to show that the entire principle of reformation enshrined in Bachan Singh case has been abandoned.”
Wrapping up the talk, Dr. Surendranath discussed a prospective third volume to the Report and how it would focus on the mental and psychological impact of the capital punishment on the prisoners. For this initiative, the Centre plans to collaborate with NIMHANS Bangalore and delve into the aspect of mental health that is often discarded during the discourse on death penalty.
You can read Part I of the report below. The entire report is also available on the Centre’s website.