Lost in the cacophony of human rights activists protesting against death penalty after Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru’s hanging, is an interesting statistic that reveals the working of the Indian judicial system.
Of the 1460 persons sentenced to death in India between 2001 to 2011, only four have been hanged -- Afzal Guru, Ajmal Kasab, Auto Shankar and Dhananjoy Chatterjee.
The National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) statistics reveal that an average of 146 death sentences are awarded by Indian courts every year. Amnesty International estimates that 140 people are sentenced to death every year in India. The NCRB stats also reveal that in the same period, various higher courts commuted death sentences of 4,321 convicts to life imprisonment. In spite of so many death sentences passed by Indian courts, nearly 99 per cent convicts never face the gallows.
Among the 139 countries where the death penalty is part of penal provisions, Saudi Arabia tops the list of executions -- an average of 275 a year -- followed by the US, where an average of 50 convicts are sent to the electric chair or the gurney for lethal injections. India executed 2 persons in 2012, its highest in 20 years.
In India, in the aftermath of the Delhi gangrape, the number of death sentences pronounced by the lower courts has grown remarkably. Courts in western Odisha have sentenced at least five persons to death for rape and murder.
On 23rd March, a Mumbai sessions court awarded the death sentence to two persons for murdering a minor. A fortnight earlier, Binay Bagdi was sentenced to death by the Burdwan sessions court for raping and strangling a minor.
In the last nine months, courts in Bihar have sentenced 4 to death; Jharkhand 2, Punjab 3, and MP 12. Obtaining the exact numbers of death sentences awarded by all lower courts across the country takes time to be tabulated, since procedural delays mean it takes more than a year for all data to be compiled.
At the moment, 404 convicts are in the death row in various prisons across the country and 64,000 murder convicts are in jails serving time. Another 52,000 are accused of murder.