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The idea behind this blog is to collect information on the death penalty in India and make it accessible. We are trying our best to put the latest information on the people who are currently on death row, the status of their cases, their mercy petitions and also the information on any death sentence across the country. Please feel free to write us and give us your suggestions and comments and also any information you have come across regarding the death penalty in India. Our email id is abolishdeathpenaltyindia@gmail.com The blog is currently managed by Grace Pelly, Lara Jesani, Nitu Sanadhya, Rebecca Gonsalvez, Reena Mary George and Vijay Hiremath. Kindly mark copies of the emails to: vijayhiremath@gmail.com reena.mary.george@univie.ac.at

Monday, September 21, 2009

Waiting on death row: a cruel punishment

The Supreme Court in a land mark judgement in Jagdish Vs. State of M.P. delivered on 18 Sept 2009 by the bench of Justice Bedi and Justice Panchal has held that the death sentence of persons who are on death row for a very long time should be commuted. The judgement has stated that there are cases where the persons are on death row since more than 10 years. The Supreme Court in its judgement states that, 'The power of the President and the Governor to grant pardon etc. under Articles 72 and 161 of our Constitution though couched in imperative terms, has nevertheless to be exercised on the advice of the executive authority. In this background, it is the Government which, in effect, exercises that power. The condemned prisoner and his suffering relatives have, therefore, a very pertinent right in insisting that a decision in the matter be taken within a reasonable time, failing which the power should be exercised in favour of the prisoner. We, as Judges, remain largely unaware as to the reasons that ultimately bear with the Government in taking a decision either in favour of the prisoner or against him but whatever the decision it should be on sound legal principles related to the facts of the case. We must, however, say with the greatest emphasis, that human beings are not chattels and should not be used as pawns in furthering some larger political or government policy. We may hark back to our own experiences in life. Even a matter as mundane or trivial as the impending result of an examination or the report of a medical test arising out of suspicion of a serious disease, or the fate of a loved one who has gone missing or a person hanging between life and death on account of a severe injury, makes it impossible for a person to maintain his equanimity or normal way of life. Contrast this with the plight of a prisoner who has been under a sentence of death for 15 years or more living on hope but engulfed in fear as his life hangs in balance and in the hands of those who have no personal interest in his case and for whom he is only a name. Equally, consider the plight of the family of such a prisoner, his parents, wife and children, brothers and sisters, who too remain static and in a state of limbo and are unable to get on with life on account of the uncertain fate of a loved one. What makes it worse for the prisoner is the indifference and ennui which ultimately develops in the family, brought about by a combination of resignation, exhaustion, and despair. What may be asked is the fault of these hapless individuals and should they be treated in such a shabby manner.

14. The observations reproduced above become extremely relevant as of today on account of the pendency of 26 mercy petitions before the President of India, in some cases, where the Courts had awarded the death sentences more than a decade ago. We, too, take this opportunity to remind the concerned Governments of their obligations under the aforementioned statutory and Constitutional provisions.

15. Those of us who have had the occasion to inspect a Jail where executions are carried out have first hand knowledge of the agony and horror that a condemned prisoner undergoes every day. The very terminology used to identify such prisoners - death row in-mates, or condemned prisoners, with their even more explicit translations in the vernacular - tend to remind them of their plight every moment of the day. In addition to the solitary confinement and lack of privacy with respect to even the daily ablutions, the rattle on the cell door heralding the arrival of the Jailor with the prospect as the harbinger of bad news, a condemned prisoner lives a life of uncertainty and defeat. In one particular prison, the horror was exacerbated as the gallows could be seen over the wall from the condemned cells. The effect on the prisoners on seeing this menacing structure each morning during their daily exercise in the courtyard, can well be imagined. To cap it all, some of these prisoners, sentenced to death by the Sessions Judge in a case of multiple murders, were later acquitted by the High Court in appeal for lack of evidence.'

Considering the observations made by the Apex Court the government must commute all the death sentences to life immediately.

Waiting on death row: a cruel punishment

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