27 January 2021 :
Project 39A at National Law University, Delhi, published the fifth edition of the “Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistic Report” which provides an annual update on all death penalty cases in India alongwith documenting the legislative developments on the issue.
As on 31st December 2020, there were 404 prisoners on death row across India, with Uttar Pradesh having the highest number of such prisoners at 59.
The functioning of courts across India was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a significant drop in the number of death sentences imposed by trial courts to 77, as compared to 103 in 2019. However, there was an increase in the proportion of death sentences imposed for cases involving sexual offences by trial courts from 53% in 2019 to 65% in 2020.
March 2020 also saw the execution of Mukesh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Kumar Thakur and Pawan Gupta for gang rape and murder of a young woman in December 2012.
The functioning of courts was severely constrained due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the imposition of the lockdown in March 2020.
In 2020, sessions courts imposed 77 death sentences in cases involving 76 prisoners, a marked drop from the 103 sentences imposed in 2019.
Yet, the 48 death sentences imposed within the first three months of the year prior to the imposition of the lockdown, amounting to nearly 62% of last year's total, indicate that the total figure this year would likely have been significantly higher in the absence of the pandemic.
Of the 77 death sentences imposed by the sessions courts this year, 50 were for offences involving sexual violence. 24 death sentences were imposed for murder (simpliciter) and two for kidnapping with murder.
65% of the death sentences imposed by trial courts (50 out of 77 cases) were for offences involving sexual violence. This proportion is the highest in five years with a marked increase from the 53% in 2019.
Of the 65% of cases involving sexual offences, 82% were in cases involving children. There has been a steady increase in the proportion of death penalty cases involving sexual offences, from 17.64% in 2016 to 37.27% in 2017 and then 41.10% in 2018.
High Courts across the country adjudicated 30 death penalty cases involving 38 prisoners. Death sentence was confirmed in three of these cases, with two involving sexual offences and one involving the offence of murder.
High Courts commuted death sentences in 17 cases. Five prisoners who had been sentenced to death by trial courts were acquitted of all charges by the High Courts.
In five cases, High Courts remitted the case back to trial courts for readjudication.
The Supreme Court delivered judgments in multiple proceedings of five cases.
One case culminated in the executions of four prisoners for the offence of gangrape and murder of a young woman in December 2012.
The death sentence was confirmed in one case involving two prisoners for the offence of parricide. The Court commuted the death sentence of four prisoners in three cases. Two of these cases involved the offences of kidnapping and murder and one involved rape and murder. In two out of three cases, the Court imposed fixed term imprisonment of 25 years on commutation of the death sentence, and in the third, imposed a sentence of life imprisonment with no remission up to 14 years.
Mukesh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Kumar Thakur and Pawan Gupta were executed in March 2020 in Tihar Jail, New Delhi for the rape and murder of a young woman in December 2012. The last execution prior to this was the execution of Yakub Memon in July 2015.