RIGHT TO LEAST PAINFUL DEATH

While the recommendation of Law Commission to abolish death sentence is far from being becoming a reality, this has resulted in pressing for allowing the execution of death sentence prisoners in a manner that would cause the least painful death. The matter has ultimately landed in the Supreme Court in the form of a Public Interest Litigation which refers to the 187th Report of the Law Commission of India advocating removal of the present mode of execution from the statute. While the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra made it clear that the apex court would not decide as to what should be the mode of executing a condemned prisoner in India, at the same time it has asked the Centre to apprise it about the various modes of executing death row prisoners prevalent in other countries. The petition has sought setting aside of the legal provision that a death row convict would only be hanged to death. However, Govt’s stand as stated by the Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand before the Apex Court has been that executing a condemned prisoner by hanging was a viable method as lethal injection was not workable. It is a fact that on a meticulous analysis of Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution it seems that under this article the Right to Life also includes the right of condemned prisoner to have a dignified mode of execution so that death becomes less painful. It is pertinent to mention here that even the Law Commission in its report had noted a significant increase in the number of countries where hanging has been abolished and substituted by electrocution, shooting or lethal injection as methods of execution. Since dying with dignity is part of Right to Life as such the present practice of executing a death row convict by hanging undoubtedly involves prolonged pain and suffering. While in hanging, the entire execution process takes over 40 minutes to declare the prisoner dead, the shooting process involves not more than a few minutes and in case of intravenous lethal injection, it is all over in 5 minutes. The observation of the Law Commission, “The death penalty has no demonstrated utility in deterring crime or incapacitating offenders any more than its alternative imprisonment for life and that the quest for retribution as a penal justification cannot descend into cries for vengeance” seems to have been felt inadequate by the Union government in order to accept the recommendation of the Commission to abolish capital punishment, it is hoped that the government takes a humane stand before the Supreme Court on the issue of mode of execution of death sentence to convicts. While the Govt has been allowed four weeks’ time by the Apex Court to file the response, in the mean time the government should reconsider its stand on the issue as the rejection of the recommendation of Law Commission for abolition of death penalty has undoubtedly been a great blow to the votaries of the abolishment of capital punishment who have been leading this global crusade in India. Going by the reasons spelt by the Govt for not abolishing capital punishment asserting that time was not ripe yet to remove it completely from the statute book especially in view of the threat from terrorism, seems there is no justification in rejecting the recommendation of the Law Commission. Reading in between the lines the Home Ministry statement, it was amply clear that the Ministry was in total agreement with the projection of the Law Commission that complete removal of capital punishment from the statute book is not feasible due to draconian threat of terrorism. In its report, the Law Commission had also recommended the swift abolition of death penalty except in terror-related cases. However, it was quite unfortunate that the government did not give a nod to the Commission’s well justified recommendation. Now it is expected that the government accepts with dignity that Right to Life also includes the right of condemned prisoner to have a dignified mode of execution and agrees to replace the present procedure with intravenous lethal injection, shooting, electrocution or gas chamber by making the necessary amendments in law including the quashing of section 354(5) of the Criminal Procedure Code, which states that when a person is sentenced to death, the sentence shall direct that the condemned prisoner be hanged by the neck till death. The Apex court too will in due course of time finally decide in its verdict whether Right to Die by a dignified procedure of death is a fundamental right as defined under Article 21 of the Constitution or not.