The Tripura assembly Friday passed a private members’ resolution proposing that the Centre be asked to replace the death penalty under Indian Penal Code Section 302 with lifetime imprisonment.
The decision to accept the resolution, brought before the assembly by former Speaker and opposition Congress MLA Jitendra Sarkar, was accepted by all members of both the Left Front and the Congress except Congress MLA Ratan Lal Nath who said he was neither voting yes nor no.
Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said, “The fundamental right to life and the death penalty are contradictory. There may be confusion among the public that life imprisonment means 14 years in jail, but life imprisonment is now life in prison.” “It is not an experiment where the culprit comes out of jail and we see if the person has been reformed. Rather, life imprisonment will send a message to society that the penalty for murder is living inside jail for the rest of your life,” he said.
Tripura Law Minister Tapan Chakraborty said, “Most developed countries have abolished the death penalty and instead opted for life in prison as punishment. We also need to have a reformist outlook and do the same. The Constitution guarantees right to life. The death penalty is a form of revenge.”
Congress leader Sudip Roy Barman, leader of the opposition, said while he does not know the party’s line, it is his personal view that the death penalty should be abolished.
Moving the resolution, 70-year-old Jitendra Sarkar said India continues to have the death penalty but decisions by the court are appealed against before the President, who sometimes accepts and sometimes rejects them. He said statistics have shown that there is no correlation between the death penalty and the reduction of heinous crimes — murders do not show a declining trend because of the death penalty.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Jitendra Sarkar said, “Human life exists by the grace of god and nature, and humans cannot create life. So we cannot murder human beings, this is something being done by extremists. So government should not commit further murder through the death penalty. If instead, we sentence the culprits to life in prison, then the culprit will be repentant.”
He said there was no immediate cause for his resolution and that the Yakub Memon case had nothing to do with it. “It is only because of humanistic reasons. I also did not consider the party line. It is my personal view,” he said.
The Indian Penal Code is a central law that applies across the country, barring Jammu and Kashmir where the Ranbir Penal Code is the relevant legislation to stipulate punishment for criminal offences. Any amendment to the IPC is in the exclusive domain of Parliament and that is why Tripura’s resolution shall be considered by it as a proposal mooted by a state for changing a legal provision.
Such resolutions are usually referred to the Ministry of Law and Justice which examines the proposal and expresses its views on the subject matter. It is then for the cabinet to decide whether such a proposal is to be accepted and if so, what should be its form. An amendment bill will then be required to be drafted by the Law Ministry and the parliamentary process involving both the Houses shall be pursued.