28 Sep 2009

Delay in hanging to Death; uncertainity more killing: SC

"Delay in the execution of the death sentence is itself a dehumanizing and an unreasonable procedure, the death sentence ought to be converted to one for life" argued the lawyer for an accused sentenced to death before the Supreme Court recently. 

Taking note of its earlier decisions on the issue and the socio-physiological position of the prisoners living under the shadow of death and the power of the Government to reduce the sentence of death to one of life-imprisonment, the Bench expressed its dis-satisfaction over the state-of-affairs prevailing in the country.
The condemned prisoner and his suffering relatives have 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.
The Bench went on to observe "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."

Condemning the practices in the jails where such inmates are kept, the Bench particularly noted,
"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."
One can only hope that this recent rebuke by the Supreme Court brings the Government in line and a quick decision is taken over the fate of those condemned to suffer more in jail awaiting their fate ...

Have a look at the decision (relevant portion starts from paragraph 11)

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