Judgment on Rajiv Gandhi Killers Reignites Old Debate

The Supreme Court recently commuted the death sentence awarded to the assassins of the former PM to life, thereby reigniting an old debate. Should killers be killed, or should they get a chance to reform?

Published: 08th April 2014 07:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th April 2014 07:59 AM   |  A+A-


With Supreme Court standing by its decision to spare Rajiv Gandhi’s killers the gallows, law enforcers are worried about “wrong signals” going out to criminals.

Human rights activists, on the other hand, say the decision is humane. The court has commuted the death sentence on the grounds that the authorities took way too long to execute it.

Noted criminal lawyer C V Sudhindra says the apex court’s decision is contrary to earlier precedents and the judgment of a constitutional bench in a case in 2005. However, in the Rajiv Gandhi killers’ case, a curative petition is maintainable, he told City Express.

“By dismissing the review petition, the court is sending a wrong signal. With both the Supreme and High Courts having the jurisdiction to review whether an order is right or wrong---there was once an order given by a bench of seven judges which was further reviewed by a bench of nine---a review is possible in this case too,” he said.

Acts as a deterrent, says sangliana

Opposing the decision, former Lok Sabha member and IPS officer H T Sangliana says people, who have by choice or determination snuffed out the lives of other people, have no right to an escape just because the sentence was delayed.

“By committing such heinous crimes, they have ruined the lives of victims, including their dreams and expectations, and put their families to untold sufferings, so they deserve the capital punishment. If the law makers in all their wisdom have enacted this law, it should be implemented even if it is delayed,” he said.

A Supreme Court advocate said, “Any inordinate and unexplainable delay in deciding mercy petitions has now become one of the deciding factors for commutation to life but a mere delay does not give entitlement for commutation. I feel that the three judges have taken a very liberal view, be it the Rajiv Gandhi or the Bhullar case, but every other case cannot be put in the same basket. This was an order based on the January 21 verdict by the CJI headed bench in Shatrughan Chauhan and three others. On the whole, our country is still not ready for removal of capital punishment as in some countries. But some day, a larger bench may overturn this order when dealing with cases of heinous crimes committed by terrorists and others.”

Sudhindra adds, “Execution of such orders takes time. Usually, death sentences are given in the rarest of rare cases and this law should have a uniform application. If the court is setting a precedent now, why not give the same benefit in the hundreds of pending cases?”

Sangliana opines that the court’s decision sends a wrong signal encouraging people to commit the most heinous crimes without any fear.

“I was once in charge of the Central Jail and in my tenure, I always looked for opportunities to change the hearts of life term convicts. But I never supported the decision to prematurely release anyone. Every criminal has to complete his sentence for the crime he has committed.”

“In fact, I still remember, a guy who was released in the morning was caught again in the evening, committing another crime, so soon. I feel that our country needs such strong laws as a deterrent but death sentences should be executed without any delay. Why should we clothe and feed them as they get the best food, sometimes home food and the best facilities from the tax payers’ money just because the execution has not been carried out?” Sangliana argues.

‘A humane approach is needed’

Advocating doing away with death sentences, C K Prakash, responsible for fact finding in South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM), says, “It is definitely a big relief for the accused who have been waiting for death for so many years. We have to give an opportunity to them to reform. Killing them cannot kill the crime as the country has been witness to some of the most heinous crimes like the Delhi gang rape case, Shakthi Mills rape case, which have taken place despite the most stringent laws.”

Prakash says crime hasn’t been stopped by death sentences.

“We have to change the existing system as even our Central Jails are dens of corruption where huge amounts of money are exchanged every day for notorious and hardened criminals to get the best facilities.

“If a criminal pays a certain amount of money, he can either stay in the hospital or even come out on parole. Instead of reforming the criminals, the authorities are hand in glove with aiding them to carry forward their illegal activities in the jail. Once convicted, a person is branded for life as a criminal or a psychopath, but with suitable counselling, education and treatment, he or she can be reformed,” the human rights activist observes.

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