The Supreme Court today asked the Centre to apprise it about the various modes of executing death row prisoners prevalent in other countries. However, a 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. “We cannot say what should be the mode. Tell us what is happening in other countries,” the bench, which also comprised Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said. Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, representing the Centre, sought time to file a response to a petition which has sought setting aside of the legal provision that a death row convict would only be hanged to death. During the brief hearing, Anand told the bench that executing a condemned prisoner by hanging was a viable method as lethal injection was not workable.
The bench granted four weeks time to the Centre to file its response on the PIL, which also refers to the 187th Report of the Law Commission advocating removal of the present mode of execution from the statute. On October 6 last year, the court had sought the Centre’s reply on the plea, filed in personal capacity by lawyer Rishi Malhotra, which referred to Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution and said it also included the right of condemned prisoner to have a dignified mode of execution so that death becomes less painful.
The plea has said the Law Commission 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. It said “dying with dignity is part of right to life” and the present practice of executing a death row convict by hanging involves “prolonged pain and suffering”. The present procedure can be replaced with intravenous lethal injection, shooting, electrocution or gas chamber in which death is just a matter of minutes, it said.
The PIL has sought 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. It has sought to declare “right to die by a dignified procedure of death as a fundamental right as defined under Article 21 of the Constitution”. Drawing a comparison, the petition has said that while in hanging, the entire execution process takes over 40 minutes to declare prisoner dead, the shooting process involved not more than a few minutes. In case of intravenous lethal injection, it is all over in 5 minutes.