New Delhi, July 11 (IANS) Does the death sentence, executed in 20 seconds and which frees a convict from any burden of crime he has committed, act as a greater deterrent than a life time in jail without any hope of ever coming out on parole or bail.
This question was posed by BJP Lok Sabha member Varun Gandhi while opposing the death penalty at a day-long consultation on capital punishment with experts organised by the Law Commission of India.
“It is the certainty of punishment and not its severity that acts as an effective deterrent,” Gandhi said.
Addressing the question of punishment and deterrence, he asked: “The question is whether somewhat quick, swift, somewhat painless death is a greater punishment than a life time of imprisonment without the possibility of parole or bail.”
“To my mind, a life time of incarceration without any hope of release is living death much more severe than a 20-second release which actually morally frees an individual from any burden they may carry,” he said.
Former Punjab Police chief Julio Ribeiro and former Jammu and Kashmir chief secretary and the first chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah — who have first hand experience of dealing with terrorism — also opposed the death penalty, even to terrorists accused of targeting innocent people.
“If the death penalty had sent shivers down the spines of possible offenders, I would have been tempted to support its retention. But that is not so,” Ribeiro said.
He said there was “widespread public support for the death sentence for convicted terrorists” but it was “often forgotten that those who actually execute terrorist killings are mainly drawn from the dispossessed and poorer sections of that particular community” whereas “masterminds roam freely in climes hospitable to them”.
Habibullah asked: “Are we going to be a part of the world moving ahead (with the abolition of death penalty) or are we going to be retrograde?”
While counsel T.R. Andhyarujina favoured the abolition of the death penalty, saying it did not act as a deterrent and was cruel, Supreme Court Bar Association president Dushyant Dave, on the other hand, favoured its retention citing the peculiar conditions and terror threat to the country.
Another apex court lawyer, Sanjay Hegde, said that in the event of awarding the death sentence, the court should look for alternatives.
“Death penalty has to be looked in its totality. There may be a case when keeping alive a convict is too dangerous for the society. It is in such cases the alternate options (to death sentence) closes,” Hegde said.
Law Commission chairman Justice A.P. Shah said that in the past the panel opined retaining the death penalty but now the situation has changed with a very large number of countries having abolished the death sentence.
He said that in the prevailing scenario, the question of retaining or abolishing the death sentence needs to be relooked.
Former CBI director D.K. Karthikeyan, who had headed the team that probed the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, cautioned against abolishing the death penalty as the majority of people were not prepared for it, and they needed to be made aware before embarking on such a course.