Friday, July 10, 2015

Venkatesh Nayak on Death Sentencing in India 1998-2013

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Venkatesh Nayak, Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in New Delhi, has requested the circulation of the following research report, which he prepared, entitled, Award of Death Sentences and Commutations of Life Imprisonment: Analysis of Statistical Trends in India Based on Prison Statistics for the Years 1998-2013 (2015).

The research report is described as a rapid study of the trends relating to the award of the death sentence and commutation of such sentences to life imprisonment across India during the period 1998-2013. It was compiled on the eve of the Round Table on Death Penalty that will be organised by the Law Commission of India in New Delhi on Saturday, 11 July, 2015.

The Report, Award of Death Sentences and Commutations of Life Imprisonment, follows below. The comprehensive Open Dataset prepared by compiling various datasets of the National Crime Records Bureau may also be accessed HERE.

Analysis of Statistical Trends in India Based on Prison Statistics1 
Published by the National Crime Records Bureau
(Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India)
for the years 1998-2013

India is in a minority group of countries on the planet that retain capital punishment on their statute books. According to a compilation attempted in 20092 the following criminal offences under various laws attract the death sentence in India:

Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC)
--Criminal conspiracy for committing any of the following offences- Section 120-B 
--Treason, for waging war against the Government of India- Section 121
--Abetment of mutiny actually committed – Section 132
--Perjury resulting in the conviction and death of an innocent person – Section 194 
--Threatening or inducing any person to give false evidence resulting in the conviction and death of an innocent person – Section 195A
--Murder - Section 302
--Murder committed by a life convict – Section 3033
--Abetment of a suicide by a minor, insane person or intoxicated person – Section 305 
--Attempted murder by a serving life convict – Section 307(2);
--Kidnapping for ransom- Section 364 and
--Dacoity with murder – Section 396

Additionally, the following special laws also prescribe death penalty for various offences:

Army Act, 1950; Navy Act, 1950; Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force Act, 1992; Defence and Internal Security of India Act, 1971 ; Defence of India Act, 1971; Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987; Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Prevention) Act, 1985; Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987; Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002; Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989; Explosive Substances Act, 1908; Arms Act, 1959; Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. Several States have their own laws prescribing death penalty under special laws.

Upon conviction and award of death sentence, an individual accused of committing one or more heinous crimes can all the way go up to the Supreme Court challenging the sentence awarded. In many cases the death sentence is commuted to life imprisonment either by the Constitutional Courts or by the President or the Governor as the case may be. The instances where the President or the Governor commutes a death sentence to a life term in prison while deciding mercy petitions is becoming rarer while Courts are commuting more death sentences into life terms in prison in the course of deciding appeals against death sentences. We will not go into the debates about the wisdom of retaining the death penalty on the statute book or the abolitionist argument as that is not the purpose of this note.

Open Datasets accessible under GoI’s Open Data Portal:

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs is responsible for collecting crime-related statistics from the stage of filing first information reports (FIRs) to judgements of trial courts. The NCRB sources this data from the crime records bureaus in the States (SCRBs) which in turn collect data from similar agencies set up at the district level. The 14,360+ police stations across the country are the basic source of crime statistics collated across the country.

Thanks to the implementation of the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) instituted by the Central Government in 2012, all ministries and departments are now required to publish datasets (statistical or other kinds of data) that they have in their possession which is not likely to cause harm if disclosed. More than 50 ministries have uploaded hundreds of datasets on the newly opened website: This is indeed proactive disclosure of information by government departments above and beyond the requirement of Section 4(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Open Datasets about Death Sentences and Commutation Orders:
This note is based on the open datasets regarding award of death sentences by courts, the commutation of death sentences to life imprisonment and execution of prisoners sentenced to death published by the NCRB on the Open Data Portal. Datasets for 2001-2012 and 2013 on this subject are displayed on the Open Data Portal. This note also takes into account statistics regarding award of death sentences available for the period 2000-1998 in the annual compilations of prison statistics of NCRB as disclosed on its website.4 The main purpose of the note is to show the trends regarding award of death sentences during the 16 year period between 1998-2013.

In order to obtain similar data for 2014 and up to May 2015 when we submitted a formal request under The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act), the NCRB informed us that the information was still being compiled and not readily available. A scanned copy of the RTI application and the response received from NCRB is at Annexure -1.

Amnesty International reported that 64+ individuals were handed the death sentence in 2014.5 This figure seems to be based on media reports of each case where such sentences were awarded because the official figures for 2014 have not yet been made public. For the year 2013, Amnesty International reported that 72+ individuals were given capital punishment.6 Official data released by NCRB for 2013 indicates a much higher figure of 125 individuals who received capital punishment. Our main findings regarding the trends in awarding capital punishment over the 16 year period – 1998-2013 are given below.

Main Findings

Year-wise trends:
 As many as 2,052 individuals were awarded capital punishment by courts in India

between 1998 – 2013. Courts awarded the death sentence to 1,677 individuals during the first 13 years of the 21st century. On an average more than 128 persons were sentenced to death per year during this period.7 Unfortunately, the gender break up of these figures is not available in the NCRB datasets.

 The most number of death sentences handed down in any given year was 2007 when courts across India punished 186 individuals in this manner. In 2000, 165 individuals received death sentences while 164 individuals received this punishment in 2005. 1999 (155 individuals) and 2003 (142 individuals) take the fourth and the fifth place on this list of years in which the most number of death sentences were awarded.

The least number of death sentences were awarded in 1998 (55 individuals). 97 persons each were awarded the capital punishment during the years 2010 and 2013. 2011 (117 individuals) and 2013 (125 individuals) figure at fourth and fifth places respectively on the list of years when the least number of death sentences were handed down by courts.

State/UT-wise trends:
 An individual convicted of one or more crimes inviting a sentence of death was more likely to be so punished in the State of Uttar Pradesh. With 506 individuals awarded the death sentences during the 16 year period, Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for almost a quarter (24.65%) of the total figure calculated for the 16 year period. This figure could be higher because data is not available for the year 1998 in the NCRB datasets.

 With 178 individuals so punished, Bihar stands 2nd in the list of States/UTs where the most number of death sentences were awarded by courts during the period 1998-2013. In Madhya Pradesh 162 individuals received the death sentence placing it 3rd on the list of States/UTs. In 2013, Madhya Pradesh topped the list of States/UTs where the most number of death sentences (22) were awarded.

 Maharashtra takes 4th place with 160 individuals receiving capital punishment during this period. Tamil Nadu is at the 5th place with 147 individuals receiving capital punishment during the 16 year period.
 Three States, namely, Chhattisgarh (carved out of the erstwhile undivided Madhya Pradesh), Jharkhand (carved out of the erstwhile undivided Bihar) and Uttarakhand (carved out of the erstwhile Uttar Pradesh) came into existence towards the end of the year 2000. Amongst them, Jharkhand takes the top position with 91 individuals being handed the death sentence during the last 13 years (2001- 2013). In Chhattisgarh only 29 persons were awarded capital punishment during the same period and in Uttarakhand this figure was 18.

Interestingly, in Karnataka, no death sentences were handed down between 1998- 2003. All 107 death sentences were handed down during the years 2008 (22), 2010 (19), 2005 and 2007 (14 each), 2006 (13), 2012 (8), 2004 (7) and 2009 (5). In 2013, 4 individuals received the capital punishment in Karnataka.

 Similarly, no death sentences were awarded in Gujarat during the period 1998-2000. All 62 death sentences were awarded during the years 2004 (19), 2011 (14), 2005 and 2009 (8 each), 2003 (5) and 2001 and 2012 (3 each). In 2013, 2 individuals received the death sentence in this State.

 A person was least likely to receive the death sentence in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Sikkim and the UTs of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Lakshadweep as they have not recorded any such instance during the 16 year period.

Region-wise trends:
 Not taking into account the States with the most number of death sentences awarded during the 16 year period, the region-wise breakup (north, south, east, west and north east) of the figures are as follows:
 The Southern region (including the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and the UTs of Puducherry, Laskhadweep) accounted for 311 death sentences during the years 1998-2013 – the highest amongst all regions. Tamil Nadu tops the list with 147 death sentences followed by Karnataka with 107 and Kerala with 44. Andhra Pradesh saw the least number of death sentences awarded at 11. While Puducherry saw 2 death sentences awarded in 2009, no capital punishment was awarded in Lakshadweep during the entire period.

 In the Eastern region barring Bihar (for obvious reasons) the States of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Sikkim and Odisha and the UT of Andaman and Nicobar Islands accounted for 262 death sentences during the period 1998-2013. West Bengal tops the list with 106 death sentences followed by Jharkhand with 91. In Odisha only 33 individuals were sentenced to death during the period 2001-13 but none during the years 1998-2000. In Andaman and Nicobar Islands 2 individuals were sentenced to death between 1998-2000 and one person in 2013. Sikkim is the only State where no death sentence was awarded during the 16 year period.

 Barring Uttar Pradesh (for obvious reasons), the Northern region comprising of the States of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, and the UTs of Delhi and Chandigarh) accounted for 205 death sentences during the 16 year period. Delhi accounts for almost 50% (102 cases) of this figure, most of which were handed between the years 2001-2013. Himachal Pradesh accounts for the least number of death sentences (3) during the same period. Chandigarh recorded 6 death sentences during the years 2001-2013. No capital punishment was awarded between 1998-2000.
 Barring Maharashtra (for obvious reasons) in the Western region the States of Rajasthan and Gujarat and the UTs of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu account for 145 death sentences during the 16 year period. Rajasthan tops this list with 79 death sentences. No death sentences were handed in Dadra and Nagar Haveli during this period.

 The North-eastern region accounts for the least number of death sentences (States of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura) at 42. Assam accounted for 85% (29) of these figures (all handed between 2001-2013) followed by Meghalaya (6), Tripura (4) and Manipur (3). No capital punishment was awarded in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. According to NCRB reports, Arunachal Pradesh did not even have jails until 2009.

 It is also interesting to note that the States which have a long history of conflict between government forces and militant groups, have not seen any kind of spurt in the number of death sentences being awarded. Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur where the Armed Forces Special Powers Acts (AFSPA) are being enforced due to militant exigencies the number of death sentences awarded are much fewer compared to States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland where AFSPA has been extended repeatedly, have not witnessed a single instance of death sentence being handed down to anybody. Jharkhand is the only exception where the high numbers coincide with the existence of militant activity. The situation in this State needs deeper research and investigation which is not possible using the NCRB’s database.

Trends in execution:
 Three persons were executed during this 16 year period – one each in West Bengal (2004), Delhi (2013) and Maharashtra (2012).
Trends in commutation:

In this section, apart from reporting our findings about the trends in the commutation of death sentences to life imprisonment we have also interrogated the reliability of the information available in the NCRB datasets.

Main Findings
 During the years between 2001-2013, the death sentences of 4,497 persons are said to have been commuted to life imprisonment. This category of data is not available in the NCRB’s reports for the remaining 3 years included in this study.

While 2,019 individuals received such commutation in the States, 2,478 individuals are said to have received this benefit in the UTs. This is where the dataset disclosed by NCRB becomes questionable. While 1,573 individuals were sentenced to death in the States during this period, only 104 persons were awarded capital punishments in the UTs. The total number of persons awarded the death sentence in the UTs during the previous years, namely 1998-2000 is a mere 27. The inflated figure of 2,478 is due to the NCRB’s reporting of commutations in Delhi at 2,470- 919 in 2005, 806 in 2006 and 726 in 2009. The total number of death sentences awarded to persons in Delhi during the 16 year period is a mere 102. Unless it can be shown that the remaining persons were all convicted prior to 1998, the commutation figures become unreliable. Perhaps they include commutations of other kinds of lesser sentences.

Similarly, the number of commutations ordered across all States at 2,019 is far higher than the number of death sentences awarded, i.e., 1,573 between 2001-2013. During the previous three years included in this study (1998-2000), only 348 death sentences were awarded across the States. Therefore unless NCRB clarifies that the data is accurate and also publicises the data for award of death sentences from the time of independence, it would be difficult to make sense of the dataset relating to commutations. Nevertheless the starkly visible trends are presented below:

 Assuming that these data bits for the period 2001-2013 are accurate, death sentences outnumber commutation orders in the following States and UTs (Death:Commutation):
Madhya Pradesh (116:68)
Karnataka (107:24)
Tamil Nadu (99:30)
Gujarat (62:6)
Rajasthan (43:39)
Kerala (38:23)
Andhra Pradesh (10:3)
Chandigarh (6:5)
Meghalaya (6:2)
Daman & Diu (4:0)
Himachal Pradesh (3:2)
Manipur (3:1)
Puducherry (2:1)
Andaman & Nicobar Islands (1:0)

 The Commutation orders outnumbered the death sentences in the following States:
Delhi (91:2,470)
Uttar Pradesh (406:486)
Bihar (163:369)
Maharashtra (142:191)
Jharkhand (91:304)
West Bengal (84:106)
Odisha (33:70)
Chhattisgarh (29:31)
Punjab (22:36)
Tripura (4:10)
Uttarakhand (18:46)

 Death sentences equalled the number of commutation orders in the States of Jammu and Kashmir (22:22) and Goa (1:1). The dataset does not reveal whether there is a direct correlation between the two figures or if the commutation orders relate to death sentences awarded to individuals much earlier than the period under study.

 Although no death sentences were reported from Lakshadweep for the entire 16 year period, two commutation orders were issued- one each in 2002 and 2007.

a) NCRB and the Crime Records Bureaus at the district and the State level need to urgently develop templates for recording absolutely essential details about the award of death sentences and commutation of such sentences.

b) At a minimum the datasets for both categories must include details such as gender and age profile, socio-economic, religious and educational background of the individuals sentenced to death each year. The data sets must also specify the crimes for which death sentences have been awarded.

c) NCRB must urgently inquire into the high commutation figures reported for some States and UTs to ascertain their correctness.

d) NCRBshouldalsoprovidethedateofawardofthedeathsentenceandthedateofits commutation to life imprisonment to give the reader a fair idea of the time taken in each case to get the death sentence commuted. The authority which commuted the death sentence must also be mentioned in each case.

e) NCRB must collaborate with the prison administration across the country to prepare a dataset about all the death sentences awarded and executed since the time of independence along with the demographic data as well as details of crimes committed by such individuals in the manner explained at para #(a) above.

For more information please contact:

Venkatesh Nayak
Programme Coordinator
Access to Information Programme
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
#55A, 3rd Floor, Siddharth Chambers-1
Kalu Sarai, NEW DELHI - 110 001
Tel: +91-11-41180215/2015
Fax: + 91-11-26864688; Website:;


1 Prepared and disseminated by Venkatesh Nayak, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, for public debate on the issue of abolition/retention of death penalty in India on the even of the round table discussion being organised by the Law Commission of India to be held on 11 July, 2015. The author wishes to thank Ms. Shreya Joshi, 2nd year student of Law at Jindal Global Law School of the O. P. Jindal Global University, Sonepat Haryana, for assistance with the cross-checking of the data tables.

2 Bikram Jeet Batra, “’Court’ of Last Resort: A Study of Constitutional Clemency for Capital Crimes in India”, CSLG Working Paper Series, CSLG/WP/09/04, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 2009, p.1, f.n.4.

3 Although struck down by the Supreme Court in Mithu v State of Punjab AIR 1983 SC 473, it still remains on the IPC. 

4 For an earlier note on the same subject please see: India” Death Penalty Statistics, Asian Centre for Human Rights, New Delhi, June, 2014, accessible on their website at:

5 Death Sentences and Executions: 2014, Amnesty International, 2015, page, 6, accessible at:

6 Death Sentences and Executions: 2013, Amnesty International, 2014, page 8,:
7 This is only a statistical average. The actual number of death sentences awarded in each year covered by this study is accessible in the attached MSExcel sheet.

No comments: