Death Sentence in India is a contentious topic for many reasons. According to the statistics available with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), more than 2000 individuals were awarded the death sentence by the courts in the 16 year period from 1998 to 2013. Uttar Pradesh tops the chart with 506 death sentences in the 16 year period. The highest number of death sentences was awarded in 2007.
India is in a minority group of countries on the planet that retain capital punishment on their statute books. According to a compilation attempted in 2009, the following criminal offences under various laws attract the death sentence in India:
Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC)
- Criminal conspiracy for committing any of the following offences- Section 120-B
- Treason, for waging war against the Government of India- Section 121
- Abetment of mutiny actually committed – Section 132
- Perjury resulting in the conviction and death of an innocent person – Section 194
- Threatening or inducing any person to give false evidence resulting in the conviction and
- death of an innocent person – Section 195A
- Murder – Section 302
- Murder committed by a life convict – Section 303
- Abetment of a suicide by a minor, insane person or intoxicated person – Section 305
- Attempted murder by a serving life convict – Section 307(2);
- Kidnapping for ransom- Section 364 and
- Dacoity with murder – Section 396
Additionally, some special laws also prescribe death penalty for various offences like the Arms Act etc.
What happens after the Death Sentence is awarded?
Upon conviction and award of death sentence, an individual accused of committing one or more heinous crimes can all the way go up to the Supreme Court challenging the sentence awarded. In many cases the death sentence is commuted to life imprisonment either by the Constitutional Courts or by the President or the Governor as the case may be. The instances where the President or the Governor commutes a death sentence to a life term in prison while deciding mercy petitions is becoming rarer while Courts are commuting more death sentences into life terms in prison in the course of deciding appeals against death sentences.
As many as 2,052 individuals were awarded capital punishment by courts in India between 1998 and 2013. Courts awarded the death sentence to 1,677 individuals during the first 13 years of the 21st century. On an average more than 128 persons were sentenced to death per year during this period. Unfortunately, the gender break up of these figures is not available in the NCRB datasets.
The most number of death sentences handed down in any given year was 2007 when courts across India punished 186 individuals in this manner. In 2000, 165 individuals received death sentences while 164 individuals received this punishment in 2005. 1999 (155 individuals) and 2003 (142 individuals) take the fourth and the fifth place on this list of years in which the most number of death sentences were awarded.
The least number of death sentences were awarded in 1998 (55 individuals). 97 persons each were awarded the capital punishment during the years 2010 and 2013. 2011 with 117 individuals and 2013 with 125 individuals figure at fourth and fifth places respectively on the list of years when the least number of death sentences were handed down by courts.
An individual convicted of one or more crimes inviting a sentence of death was more likely to be so punished in the State of Uttar Pradesh. With 506 individuals awarded the death sentences during the 16 year period, Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for almost a quarter (24.65%) of the total figure calculated for the 16 year period. This figure could be higher because data is not available for the year 1998 in the NCRB datasets.
With 178 individuals so punished, Bihar stands 2nd in the list of States/UTs where the most number of death sentences were awarded by courts during the period 1998-2013. In Madhya Pradesh 162 individuals received the death sentence placing it 3rd on the list of States/UTs. In 2013, Madhya Pradesh topped the list of States/UTs where the most number of death sentences (22) were awarded.
Maharashtra takes 4th place with 160 individuals receiving capital punishment during this period. Tamil Nadu is at the 5th place with 147 individuals receiving capital punishment during the 16 year period.
Three States, namely, Chhattisgarh (carved out of the erstwhile undivided Madhya Pradesh), Jharkhand (carved out of the erstwhile undivided Bihar) and Uttarakhand (carved out of the erstwhile Uttar Pradesh) came into existence towards the end of the year 2000. Amongst them, Jharkhand takes the top position with 91 individuals being handed the death sentence during the last 13 years (2001-2013). In Chhattisgarh only 29 persons were awarded capital punishment during the same period and in Uttarakhand this figure was 18.
Interestingly, in Karnataka, no death sentences were handed down between 1998- 2003. All 107 death sentences were handed down during the years 2008 (22), 2010 (19), 2005 and 2007 (14 each), 2006 (13), 2012 (8), 2004 (7) and 2009 (5). In 2013, 4 individuals received the capital punishment in Karnataka.
Similarly, no death sentences were awarded in Gujarat during the period 1998-2000. All 62 death sentences were awarded during the years 2004 (19), 2011 (14), 2005 and 2009 (8 each), 2003 (5) and 2001 and 2012 (3 each). In 2013, 2 individuals received the death sentence in this State.
A person was least likely to receive the death sentence in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Sikkim and the UTs of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Lakshadweep as they have not recorded any such instance during the 16 year period.
Region Wise Trends
Not taking into account the States with the most number of death sentences awarded during the 16 year period, the region-wise breakup (north, south, east, west and north east) of the figures are as follows:
The Southern region (including the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and the UTs of Puducherry, Laskhadweep) accounted for 311 death sentences during the years 1998-2013 – the highest amongst all regions. Tamil Nadu tops the list with 147 death sentences followed by Karnataka with 107 and Kerala with 44. Andhra Pradesh saw the least number of death sentences awarded at 11. While Puducherry saw 2 death sentences awarded in 2009, no capital punishment was awarded in Lakshadweep during the entire period.
In the Eastern region barring Bihar, the States of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Sikkim and Odisha and the UT of Andaman and Nicobar Islands accounted for 262 death sentences during the period 1998-2013. West Bengal tops the list with 107 death sentences followed by Jharkhand with 91. In Odisha only 33 individuals were sentenced to death during the period 2001-13 but none during the years 1998-2000. In Andaman and Nicobar Islands 2 individuals were sentenced to death between 1998-2000 and one person in 2013. Sikkim is the only State where no death sentence was awarded during the 16 year period.
Barring Uttar Pradesh, the Northern region comprising of the States of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, and the UTs of Delhi and Chandigarh) accounted for 205 death sentences during the 16 year period. Delhi accounts for almost 50% (102 cases) of this figure, most of which were handed between the years 2001-2013. Himachal Pradesh accounts for the least number of death sentences (3) during the same period. Chandigarh recorded 6 death sentences during the years 2001-2013. No capital punishment was awarded between 1998-2000.
Barring Maharashtra in the Western region, the States of Rajasthan and Gujarat and the UTs of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu account for 145 death sentences during the 16 year period. Rajasthan tops this list with 79 death sentences. No death sentences were handed in Dadra and Nagar Haveli during this period.
The North-eastern region accounts for the least number of death sentences (States of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura) at 42. Assam accounted for 85% (29) of these figures (all handed between 2001-2013) followed by Meghalaya (6), Tripura (4) and Manipur (3). No capital punishment was awarded in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. According to NCRB reports, Arunachal Pradesh did not even have jails until 2009.
It is also interesting to note that the States which have a long history of conflict between government forces and militant groups have not seen any kind of spurt in the number of death sentences being awarded. Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur where the Armed Forces Special Powers Acts (AFSPA) are being enforced due to militant exigencies the number of death sentences awarded are much fewer compared to States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland where AFSPA has been extended repeatedly have not witnessed a single instance of death sentence being handed down to anybody. Jharkhand is the only exception where the high numbers coincide with the existence of militant activity. The situation in this State needs deeper research and investigation which is not possible using the NCRB’s database.
Trends in execution
Three persons were executed during this 16 year period – one each in West Bengal (2004), Delhi (2013) and Maharashtra (2012).
Source: National Crime Records Bureau