Capital Punishment in India: Laws and Cases

20 Sep 2022  Read 34729 Views

India is a country that believes in the reformative theory of law, where the principle' innocent until proven guilty is followed. The death penalty is the highest degree of punishment awarded to any convicted person. Thus, awarding the death sentence is not a common phenomenon in India. In India, there were 144 total death sentences awarded in 2021.

In Indian cases like the Nirbhaya Rape case, the court imposed the death penalty for the most serious or heinous crimes, capital punishment, as this case fell in the category of rarest of the rare. Executions for such crimes are done via hanging. However, it is pertinent to note that it is a rarely administered phenomenon in India. The Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure describe the death penalty. Since its inception, the death penalty has been used in India, albeit its application has decreased over time. 

What is capital punishment in India? 

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is awarded in the rarest of rare cases. Section 354(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides a method to execute the death penalty, i.e., "Hanging by the neck until dead." Recently, the convicts of the Nirbhaya case were hanged until death in Tihar Jail. Let's know more about Capital punishment or Death Penalty.

Some popular incidents on Death Penalty are:

  1. Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, convicted in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, was hanged on 21 November 2012, and Dhananjoy Chatterjee, charged and convicted with the Murder and rape of a 14-year-old girl, was hanged in 2004.

  2. Yakub Memon, convicted in the 1993 Mumbai Blasts, was hanged for the crime of terrorism on 30 July 2015.

  3. In a famous Nirbhaya case, four convicts- Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Kumar, and Mukesh Kumar were hanged to death in Delhi's Tihar Jail in the year 2020.

Provisions on Death Penalty in India

  • Section 354(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973 states that "When the conviction is for an offence punishable with death or, in the alternative, with imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term of years, the judgment shall state the reasons for the sentence awarded, and, in the case of sentence of death, the special reasons for such sentence."

  • Offences under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, that awards the death penalty sentences. 

S. No. 

Sections under IPC

Description of the offence 


120 B

Being a party to criminal conspiracy to commit a capital offence



Waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging war, against the Government of India 



Abetting a mutiny in the armed forces(if a mutiny occurs as a result), engaging in mutiny.



Giving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure a conviction of a capital offence



Threatening or inducing any person to false evidence resulting in the conviction and death of an innocent person






Abetting the suicide of a minor



Attempted Murder by serving life convict 



Kidnapping, in the course of which the victim was held for coercive purposes or ransom 


376A, Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013

Rape if the perpetrator imposes injuries that result in the victim's death or incapacitation in a persistent vegetative state or is a repeat offender 


376 AB

Rape of a child below 12 years of age



Gang Rape of a child below 12 years of age


376 E

Certain repeat offences in the context of rape 



Dacoity with Murder- in cases where a group of five or more individuals commits dacoity and one of them commits Murder in the course of that crime, all members of the group are liable for the death penalty 

  • Part II, Section 4 of Prevention of Sati Act- Aiding or Abetting an Act of Sati 

  • 31A of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act- Drug trafficking in cases of repeat offences.  

The constitutional validity of the death penalty in India

India is one of the nations that have neither totally removed the death penalty provision nor passed legislation outlining its legality. The validity of the death penalty has been contested on several occasions since the Indian Constitution was established through Supreme Court petitions.

The constitutional validity of the death penalty was challenged from time to time in various ways:

The Supreme Court's five-judge bench unanimously maintained the death penalty's constitutionality in Jagmohan Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, concluding that it did not violate Articles 14, 19, or 21. In this case, the validity of the death sentence was contested on the grounds that it contravened Articles 19 and 21 because no procedure was provided. It was argued that the process outlined by Cr. PC was limited to finding guilt alone and did not include the imposition of a death sentence. The Supreme Court held that "the choice of death sentence is done by the procedure established by law". It was noted that the judge decides between a death sentence and a life sentence based on the circumstances, facts, and type of crime presented during the trial.

Landmark Cases on Death Penalty in India

1. The Supreme Court ruled in Rajendra Prasad v. State of UP (1979) that the death penalty would not be appropriate unless it could be proven that the defendant poses a serious and ongoing risk to social security. Three types of criminals, in the opinion of Justice Krishna Iyer, should get the death penalty:

(1) in cases of white-collar crimes,

(2) for crimes against the social order, and

(3) for eliminating a dangerous killer who poses harm to society.

The court further ruled that the imposition of the death penalty for a murder conviction under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, would not constitute a constitutional breach. Capital punishment may be imposed in severe circumstances of extreme guilt, but the convict's health must be considered.

2. The Supreme Court in Machhi Singh vs the State of Punjab (1983) laid the guidelines for the circumstances in which death sentences can be imposed. J. Thakkar spoke about Five circumstances, which are mentioned below:

"Firstly: Manner of Commission of Murder – When the Murder is committed in an extremely brutal manner so as to arouse intense and extreme indignation in the community, for instance, when the house of the victim is set a flame to roast him alive when the body is cut to pieces, or the victim is subjected to inhuman torture.

Secondly: Motive – When the Murder is committed for a motive that evinces depravity and meanness, e.g. a hired assassin, a cold-blooded murder to inherit property or gain control over property of a ward, or a murder committed for the betrayal of the motherland.

Thirdly, The anti-social or socially abhorrent nature of the crime – where a scheduled caste or minority community person is murdered in circumstances which arouse social wrath, or the bride burning for dowry or remarriage.

Fourthly: Magnitude of the Crime – Crimes of enormous proportion, like multiple murders of a family or persons of a particular caste, community, or locality.

Fifthly: Personality of the victim of Murder."

The test of whether the death penalty is constitutionally valid or not has been answered in Rajendra Prasad vs State of Punjab(1979), to which Justice Krishna Iyer empathetically stressed that the death penalty is violative of articles 14, 19, and 21. He laid down two things that must be required to impose the death penalty:

  1. There must be a special reason which should be recorded

  2. It must be imposed only in extraordinary circumstances

3. In Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980), the issue was revisited, and the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court reversed its earlier ruling in Rajendra Prasad by a vote of 4 to 1 (Bhagwati J. dissenting). Because the "public order" contemplated by clauses (2) to (4) of Article 19 is different from "law and order," it was expressed that the death penalty, as an alternative punishment for Murder, is not unreasonable and, therefore, is not in violation of articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution. It also enunciated the principle of awarding the death penalty only in the "rarest of rare cases." In his opposing opinion, Bhagwati J. stated that "the death penalty is not only unconstitutional because it violates Articles 14 and 21 but also undesirable from several points of view."

4. The Supreme Court affirmed the death penalty for four prisoners in the case of Mukesh and Others v. State (NCT of Delhi), stating that the case qualified as "the rarest of rarest" and that the crime committed was shocking to mankind. Later, the Supreme Court dismissed the inmates' requests for reviews. The death warrants were requested by the victim's parents from the Delhi court.

The Delhi government also requested issuing death warrants for the four prisoners so that their death sentences may be carried out. The Tihar government is required by a Delhi court ruling to notify convicted individuals about their remaining legal options. Later, the Delhi High Court rejected Pawan Kumar Gupta's argument that he was underage when committing the crime.

The Delhi High Court dismissed a complaint Pawan's father made against the only eyewitness, who was asking for the filing of an FIR. The four prisoners were hanged to death on 22 January 2020 in Tihar Jail, Delhi.


India is one of the biggest countries in the world, and as a result, there are a lot of crimes and criminals there. To deal with these issues, India has some incredibly strict regulations. Every offense results in punishment for the offender. The death penalty, which is rarely passed in India, is one of the corrections. A rarest of rare cases came into the picture while analyzing capital punishment/ Death Penalty Sentences. It is awarded to the convict for committing heinous and grievous crimes. There have been several discussions over the indigenous legitimacy of the capital discipline, and various people from various parts have expressed their views on it. Still, no definitive decision has yet been made.

About the Author: Gurpreet Kaur Dutta | 82 Post(s)

A legal content writer who pursued BBA-LL.B.(H) from Amity University Chhattisgarh. She has a keen interest in corporate and IPR sectors. 

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