414 death row convicts eye relief

 The Supreme Court verdict on condemned prisoners has come as a relief to 414 death row convicts in the country, bringing the focus back on the government’s apathy in dealing with their rights.

Thirteen mercy petitions were rejected last year, including a leniency plea filed by Haryana’s Dharampal 14 years ago and a nine-year-old plea of four aides of slain forest brigand Veerappan.

An RTI query has revealed that there has been a delay in deciding on the mercy petitions since 1985. In 1983, 18 petitions were decided by the president, but it came down to four next year. No decision was taken on mercy petitions for four years, while 28 petitions were decided in 1988. The number came down to single digits in the next 10 years.

The decision on Bengal’s Dhananjay Chatterjee’s petition came in 2004, after it remained pending for 10 years. The next two decisions came in 2006 and 2009. Since then, decisions have been taken on several mercy petitions, though the numbers were not as high as 1988.

According to government statistics, there were 13 women death row convicts, five in Maharashtra, followed by Delhi (4), Punjab (2) and one each in Haryana and Karnataka.

An analysis of figures between 2001 and 2012, provided by the National Crime Records Bureau, showed that 1,612 people were sentenced to death. But, only three, including Mumbai attack case convict Ajmal Kasab, were executed.

The figures for 2013 are yet to be made public. Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru was hanged last year.

Ninety-seven people were awarded death penalty In 2012, as against 177 in 2011, while sentences of 61 convicts were commuted to life imprisonment. However, 2007 saw the highest of 186 death sentences. In 2005, as many as164 people were sentenced to death.

The analysis also showed that the number of death penalties hovered above the 100 mark except in 2010 and 2012. By the end of 2012, the highest number of death row convicts were in Uttar Pradesh (106), followed by Karnataka (63), Maharashtra (51), Bihar (42), Delhi (27) and Gujarat (19).

The analysis also showed that death penalties to 4,382 people were commuted by higher courts, an indication that trial courts were liberal in awarding the death sentence.

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