For those who oppose capital punishment in India, this is the time to make your views and voices count. The Law Commission has issued a public consultation paper on the death penalty. The consultation note and questionnaire are attached separately to this email. (See also link below).
I cannot emphasise strongly enough the need for citizens to write in with their views on this very important subject. Convicts are executed in our names, and if we don't want this to happen, we should speak out. There will be few more opportune moments to do so.
The Law Commission's views command a great deal of respect in court and in Parliament. Each constitutional challenge to the death penalty in the Supreme Court has failed thus far, and each time the Supreme Court quoted the Law Commission's views articulated in its 35th Report.
The Law Commission's only report (35th Report) on the death penalty (see link below) was begun more than 50 years ago in 1962 and was completed shortly after the Indo-China war. It concluded thus:
“Having regard, however, to the conditions in India, to the variety of social upbringing of its inhabitants, to the disparity in the level of morality and education in the country, to the vastness of its area, to the diversity of its population and to the paramount need for maintaining law and order in the country at the present juncture, India cannot risk the experiment of abolition of capital punishment.” (emphasis added)
A lot has changed since this report was published. For example:
1. The murder rate has declined continuously for the last 22 years.
2. The Supreme Court has repeatedly admitted that the death penalty has been inflicted arbitrarily, unfairly, subjectively and inconsistently. The Court has said that death sentencing depends more on the personal predilections of the sentencing judge than on the facts of the case.
3. The Supreme Court has also admitted that a large number of people have been wrongly sentenced to death and executed.
4. In 1967, just a handful of countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practise. Today, more than two-thirds of the world's countries eschew capital punishment.
5. In 1967, the normal punishment for murder was the death sentence. Today, it is only in the rarest of rare cases that the death sentence is handed out. It is actually executed in even fewer cases. This drastic decline in the use of capital punishment has not increased crime; in fact it is has coincided with the decline in the murder rate. In India, we use capital punishment so infrequently (8 executions for every lakh murders), we may as well not have it all. Moreover, there is no rational basis for selecting these 8 as being especially deserving of capital punishment.
6. In India, we did not have any executions between 2004 - 2012, and there was no corresponding impact on the murder rate. If anything at all, the murder rate kept decreasing. This shows that we can easily do without capital punishment and it does not serve any utilitarian purpose.
6. Countries with a lower Human Development Index (HDI) than India's have abolished capital punishment with no tangible negative consequences. If Haiti, Cambodia, Mozambique, Angola, Paraguay, South Africa, Senegal, Philippines, Rwanda, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Bolivia -- with lower HDI and higher murder rates -- can do away with capital punishment, surely we can too.
7. Studies around the world have shown that the death penalty has no greater deterrent value than life imprisonment.
Please circulate news of this consultation widely in email groups, social media etc so that as many people as possible write in with their views and comments.
Please take the trouble to fill in the questionnaire and return it to the Law Commission at the following address:
Law Commission of India, 14th Floor, Hindustan Times House
Kasturba Gandhi Marg, New Delhi – 110 001
Tel.:+91 – 011- 23355738, 23355742; Fax: (0091)/011 - 23736744