Most death sentences in India in 2021: National Law University

Murder & sexual assault accused handed most death penalties


February 2, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Most death sentences in India in 2021: National Law University

In 2021, Supreme Court of India confirmed none of the death penalties in appeals that it heard (Photo: PTI)

In 2021, India witnessed the highest number of death sentences awarded, says a report by Project 39A of the National Law University (NLU). While several developing nations like Kazakhstan and Sierra Leone have joined European Union and a few other countries in banning capital punishment, India is increasingly getting left behind.

Rate this post

In the year 2021, a total of 488 death sentences were handed out by various courts across India, the highest in 17 years, says a report by Project 39A. It was only in 2004, that more death sentences were awarded when a total of 563 capital punishments the outcome of trials, as per data released from the Prison Statistics of India by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

The organisation, Project 39A, is an undertaking of National Law University promoting equality and justice at the national level. Since 2016, the organisation has been publishing reports on the number of death penalties given in India.

The report says that 2021 witnessed an increase of almost 100 pc of capital punishments being doled out to prisoners at sessions courts. In 2020, only 78 death penalties were given in sessions court while for the year 2021 the number almost doubled. Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 34 death penalties being given at sessions court level followed by Bihar at 27, Tamil Nadu at 15 and Andhra Pradesh at 13. The majority of death sentence cases in trial courts were in cases of murder (62 out of 144), followed by matters involving sexual offences (48 out of 144).

“The number of capital punishments have increased over the years because the society as general has become very aggressive. Whenever there are incidents of rape cases or other such incidents then society doesn’t ask the authorities to put the person in jail, they ask the authorities to kill them. Apart from this whenever leaders such as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath say that there will be zero tolerance towards crime, then such incidents are bound to increase,” Fazal Abdli, practising lawyer in the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court of India for the past eight to nine years and a member of Human Rights Lawyer Network, an NGO providing free legal help to the under-privileged tells Media India Group.

An accused sentenced to death by a sessions or trial court can has various levels of appeals left. The first appeal court is the High Court. In the year 2021, high courts all across India heard a total of 58 appeals against death penalties pronounced by lower courts out of which only 6 were confirmed, while 21 were commuted, 29 acquitted and two remitted back to the sessions court.

Even after a High Court, with its single and multiple member benches, maintains the death sentence, accused can appeal to the Supreme Court. In 2021, the top court of India heard a total of 9 appeals. Of these, none were reconfirmed by it, five cases were commuted and four accused acquitted. In 2020, however, the top court had confirmed six death penalties of the 10 appeals heard by it. This ratio can change dramatically from year to year. For instance, in 2017, Supreme Court had upheld 100pc of the verdicts of death penalties when it confirmed seven of seven appeals that it had entertained.

The Project 39A report says that the low number of appeals in 2020 and 2021 is mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the numerous restrictions imposed by it. “The limited functioning of appellate courts in both 2020 and 2021 meant fewer appeals of prisoners sentenced to death being decided, and a far greater number of prisoners remaining on death row at the end of the year,” said the report.

“In 2021, first time in six years the death penalty was imposed by a trial court for dealing in spurious liquor, with nine prisoners sentenced to death in one case under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016. Maharashtra’s state legislature unanimously approved a bill introducing the death penalty for ‘heinous’ offences of rape and gang rape. The Ministry of Women & Child Development also introduced a bill that imposes capital punishment for repeat aggravated trafficking crimes involving children and women,” added the report.

Human rights lawyers worry that the underprivileged sections of the society face a far greater share of death penalties. “I would like to refrain from answering, but I will say that if you dig deeper into the statistics then you will find that for these kinds of punishment usually the marginalised sections of the society are being targeted. The low class of the societies are also being targeted the most as they don’t have enough economic power to hire good lawyers. If you belong to high-class society then you will definitely bring in the best lawyers to defend yourself,” believes Fazal.

For several years, India has voted against international resolutions calling for abolition of death penalty. In 2021, at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), India again voted against the motion, even though the movement against death sentences is no longer limited to the western world. At the beginning of 2021, President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a bill accepting the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, abolishing capital punishment. Apart from Kazakhstan, Sierra Leone, on July 23, 2021, with a unanimous resolution abolished the death penalty, becoming 22nd African nation and 109th in the world to outlaw capital punishment.

As the global community moves towards abolition, Fazal believes that India’s image is in terms of human rights is impacted by its refusal to follow suit. He goes on to say the weaker sections of the society and the minorities are disproportionately the targets of death sentences in India. “I believe that it certainly does. However, it could go two ways one India might brag that we have zero tolerance towards crime hence people are more afraid to commit any crime. Second, the people who have been given the death penalty as a majority of them belong to the marginalised community they are often given a lawyer by the court itself. But is the lawyer capable enough or interested enough to go through all the files and fight the case properly? There is nobody which checks all these things before handing out such cases, this might have also led towards an increase in the number of death penalties,” says Fazal.



    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *