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22nd March 2023 (7 Topics)

Execution by Hanging and a possible alternative


The Supreme Court (SC) asked the Centre to provide data which may point to a more dignified, less painful and socially acceptable method of executing prisoners other than death by hanging.

About the case:

  • The Court was hearing a petition on the constitutionality of deathby hanging ‘as a mode of execution, Section 354 (5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure mandates that a person sentenced to death shall “be hanged by the neck till he is dead”.
  • The Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice P.S. Narasimha have also asked for the setting up of an expert committee to relook at India's method of putting to death its criminals.
  • The Bench has also mentioned that the fields of science and technology must also be considered for any other method of execution consistent with human dignity.
  • The court had earlier clarified that it was not questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty, which was well-settled in the Deena versus Union of India judgment and the Bachan Singh case reported in 1980.

Death Penalty:

  • It is capital punishment, as the criminal hangs until death. This type of punishment is rare.
  • Death punishment can be provided for offences under sections 121, 132, etc. In the aforementioned sections, the court doesn’t need capital punishment.
  • The death penalty is not constitutional and is proven invalid as a punishment.
  • The Supreme Court recognised the death penalty as valid.

Different modes of Death Execution:

  • Lethal injection: Typically, three drugs are used in lethal injection.
    • Pancuronium bromide (Pavulon) is used to cause muscle paralysis and respiratory arrest, potassium chloride to stop the heart, and midazolam for sedation.
    • Lethal injection is the practice of injecting one or more drugs into a person for the express purpose of causing rapid death.
  • Lethal Gas:
    • During a lethal gas execution, the prisoner is sealed in an airtight chamber and either potassium cyanide or sodium cyanide is dropped into a pan of hydrochloric acid.
    • This produces hydrocyanic gas, which destroys the human body's ability to process blood haemoglobin.
  • Hanging:
    • Hanging, execution or murder by strangling or breaking the neck with a suspended noose.
    • The traditional method of execution involves suspending victims from gallows or crossbeams until they have died of asphyxiation.
  • Firing Squad:
    • Execution by firing squad is a method of capital punishment, particularly common in the military and in times of war.
    • Some reasons for its use are that firearms are usually readily available and a gunshot to a vital organ, such as the brain or heart, most often will kill relatively quickly.
  • Electrocution:
    • Electrocution produces visibly destructive effects on the body, as the internal organs are burned.
    • The prisoner usually leaps forward against the restraints when the switch is turned on.

Centre’s stand on hanging as a death penalty:

  • In 2018, the Centre filed an affidavit supporting death by hanging.
  • It had not found the method of execution "barbaric, inhuman and cruel” compared to firing squads and lethal injections.
  • The Centre had also said the mode of execution is a “matter of legislative policy”.
  • The government said the death penalty is awarded only in the rarest of rare cases.
  • There have been only three executions between 2012 and 2015.

Concerns of alternatives:

  • The government had traced statistics regarding the administration of lethal injections to condemned prisoners in the United States for 110 years to prove its point that this mode of State execution was only designed to create an appearance of serenity and painless death.
  • Besides, if known to the public, the lethal chemical would possibly be misused.

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