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Debate against death penalty picks up momentum
S.S. Negi
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, October 15
In the wake of a date already fixed for the execution of Parliament attack case convict Mohd Afzal Guru, several political leaders and NGOs have launched a campaign with appeals to the President and the government for converting capital punishment into life sentence amidst a renewed debate on the abolition of the death penalty altogether.

The campaign has been gaining momentum even as the Supreme Court, in its renewed guidelines, has laid down that political, religious and caste considerations are foreign for the President and Governors to take note of while deciding mercy petitions.

A city court has issued black warrants for the execution of Afzal on October 20 at 6 am at the Tihar jail, where he is in solitary confinement, and his family members are waiting with anxiety as to what stand the UPA government takes on the mercy petition filed by his wife.

Before the clemency plea moved by Afzalís wife, at least 50 such petitions have been pending with the government and over 20 of those referred to the President.

Dr Kalamís dilemma is that most of the petitions are pending from the time of his predecessors.

Many of the 50 death row convicts in different jails across the country have been waiting for a decision for decades.

There is also a strong section in the country in favour of capital punishment for heinous crimes as they cite it as a necessary deterrent to deal with acts of terrorism.

Dr Kalam had asked the government last year to look into the issue and draw a comprehensive policy in this regard.

He had said he was in favour of granting clemency to some death row convicts who had grown old and physically infirm while awaiting execution for years.

He had asked the government to take humanitarian aspects into consideration while making recommendations.

Chief Justice of India Y.K. Sabharwal, after taking charge an year back, in response to the Presidentís views, had stated that he was against capital punishment.

He had hastened to add that as the head of the judiciary, he would be duty bound to implement provisions of the law as they existed today and it was a fact that the provision of death sentence existed in criminal laws.

He had said the apex court, from time to time in its judgements, laid down guidelines for courts when capital punishment should be awarded.

In renewed guidelines, the apex court had laid down five-point norms where Presidentís and Governorsí decisions on clemency petitions were open to judicial review.

The Amnesty International had sought an immediate moratorium on execution and steps for framing legislation after discussions to abolish capital punishment.

Though there was no centralised data available, the Peopleís Union for Democratic Rights, quoting various reports of the Law Commission, had stated that over 1,420 executions had taken place since 1953 in states.

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