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On the higher judiciary’s move on the death penalty

GS Paper 2


Source: The Hindu

Context: The Supreme Court asked the Centre to provide data that may point to a more dignified, less painful and socially acceptable method of executing prisoners other than death by hanging.

  • The Bench has sought fresh data to substantiate the argument that a more humane means of execution can be found.


Death penalty:

  • The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is a legal sentence in some countries where a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for a crime they have committed.
  • Section 354 (5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure mandates that a person sentenced to death shall “be hanged by the neck till he is dead”.


Table: Pros and Cons of the Death Penalty

Deterrent to crimeViolation of human rights
Provides justice for victims and familiesRisk of executing innocent people
Appropriate punishment for heinous crimesIrreversible
Reduces prison overcrowding and expensesDiscriminatory against marginalized communities
Closure for victims and familiesThe fallibility of the justice system
Vengeance for the victims and familiesPotential for wrongful convictions and biases
Supported by a majority of the publicCan be expensive and time-consuming to execute


Judgements related to death sentences:

  • There are two leading judgments on the issue — Bachan Singh vs the State of Punjab (1980), which upheld the death penalty, but limited it to the ‘rarest of rare cases’, and
  • Deena Dayal vs Union of India and Others (1983), upheld the method by ruling that hanging is “as painless as possible” and “causes no greater pain than any other known method”.
  • The 35th Report of the Law Commission (1967) noted that electrocution, the use of a gas chamber and lethal injection were considered by some to be less painful.


Centre’s stand on death by hanging:

  • In its 2018 affidavit, the government argued that death by hanging was the only “viable” option to execute a death warrant. However, the government also sought additional time to examine the methods followed in other countries.


What is the practice in other countries?

  • According to Amnesty International, 55 countries around the world have the death sentence on the books.
  • In the United States, an intravenous lethal injection is given in every state (27 states and American Samoa) that allows the death penalty. Electrocution is a secondary method in some states.
  • Execution by firing squad is employed in China and Saudi Arabia uses beheading apart from other methods.


Insta Links:

Death Penalty


Mains Link: UPSC 2014

Instances of President’s delay in commuting death sentences have come under public debate as denial of justice. Should there be a time limit specified for the President to accept/reject such petitions? Analyse.