January 27, 2022

Death Penalty in India

Death penalty is the legal punishment of being killed for a crime.[1] In India death penalty or the capital punishment is the highest degree of punishment that can be awarded to an individual for an offence committed by him. Article 21 of the Constitution of India declares that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure establish by law.” The state has the power to take the life of an individual in accordance with the procedure established by law and under the legislation like sections- 120B, 121, 132, 194, 302, 305, 364A, 376A, 396 of Indian Penal Code, Part two; Section 4 of Prevention of Sati Act, 31A of Narcotic Drugs And Psychotropic Substances Act 1985, section 4, 5 & 6 of POCSO Amendment Act 2019, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1982,Section 3(2) of SC/ST(Prevention and Atrocity) Act 1989 etc.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterre’s spokesperson said regarding the death penalty that “our position has been clear is that we call on all states to halt the use of capital punishment or at least put a moratorium on this.” But still out of 195 countries of the world, India is among the 56 counties which still retain the death penalty. As per the report of Project 39A on death penalty, released by national law university[2] , Delhi between 2000-2014 trial courts sentenced 1,810 people to death, more than half of which were commuted to life imprisonment and about quarter of those i.e. 443 were acquitted by the Supreme Court and High Courts. In last two decayed (2001 -2020) India has executes only 8 people, which is very less as compare to the number to whom the death penalty was given by the trial courts.

It clearly shows that the only a few of the convicts who are sentenced with death penalty get executed. In most of the cases the death sentence is converted into the life imprisonment by High court of the state or Supreme Court. The Death penalty is given only in rarest of the rare cases, as it was held in Bachan singh case[3]. In this case Justice R Sarkaria speaking for the majority held that for convict of murder, the general rule is life imprisonment of whose death penalty is an exception. An enduring and predominant concern for the dignity of human life postulates resistance to taking a life through law’s instrumentality. “That ought not to be done save in a rarest of rare cases when the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed.”

As per the National Criminal Bureau’s report 2020 the rate of crime against women has increased to 3.76 lakh in 2018 from 3.38 lakh in 2016 and 3.59 lakh in 2017. It shows that the fear of death penalty is not in real sense creating a fear among people, and is not able to prevent crimes in society. The question which arise regarding the death penalty is, weather India should retain the death penalty or not. Where more most of the countries has abolished the death penalty and United Nations Organization also advised the retentionlist countries to abolish the death penalty. In the country like India where the judicial system is based on the principle of reformation of prisoners. Is this appropriate to retain the death penalty or not. And what is the impact of death penalty on society.

Procedure of death penalty in India:-

  • Award of the death sentence by a session court
  • The sentence confirmed by the high court of the state to make it final.
  • The condemned convict has the option of appealing to the Supreme Court.
  • Such person can submit a mercy petition to the president and president has power under article 72 of constitution of India by which he can grant pardon to the convicted.

Arguments in favor of Death Penalty:-

  • Purpose of death penalty is to remove someone from society who would cause more harm.
  • The purpose is to remove someone from society who is incapable of rehabilitation.
  • Death penalty is to deter others and discourage them from committing crime.
  • Death penalty is to take retribution on the behalf of victim.
  • Death penalty help in management of prisons by eliminating the long term convicts and prevent over population in prisons.

Arguments against Death Penalty:-

  • It is the failure of rehabilitation of criminals which is the prime essential of reformatory judicial system.
  • In case of wrongful conviction in death penalty innocent person can be executed and cannot be compensated for that, whereas in case of life imprisonment it can be compensated.
  • Capital punishment is against the right to life and is denial of human rights
  • The death penalty does not deter people from executing any heinous crime, therefore fear of death sentence does not make people stop committing heinous offence or crime and has no deterring effect
  • The death penalty diminishes all of us, increases disrespect for human life, and offers the tragic illusion that we can teach that killing is wrong by killing.
  • Whole life spent in a prison is more rigorous than the end of life through death penalty. So the convict should spend whole life in the prison.


There are various views regarding the validity of death penalty, it is a matter of continues debate whether the state has right to take away the life of an individual or not. Bur the capital punishment or death penalty in India is only given in the rarest of rare cases only. If the view which says that the life of an individual cannot be taken by state is considered, it should also be considered that the individual also don’t have any right to take away the life of any other person. So the death penalty is given by state to administer the justice to the victim.


[1] Oxford Dictionary

[2] PROJECT 39A Equal Justice Equal Opportunity, NLU Delhi

[3] Bachan singh v. State of Punjab (1980) 2 SCC 684

Author Details: Niharika Gupta and Rajat Kumar (Bahra University)

The views of the author are personal only. (if any)

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