The Supreme Court on Friday commuted to life term the capital punishment awarded to a murder convict, noting that death penalty “somehow breaches the reformative theory of punishment under criminal law”.
A bench of Justices P C Ghose and Rohinton F Nariman also underlined that death penalty had in fact become a “distinctive feature” of criminal law in India, and that the apex court had been encouraging discussion and debate on the subject.
“Today when capital punishment has become a distinctive feature of death penalty apparatus in India which somehow breaches the reformative theory of punishment under criminal law…” said the bench.
It recalled that the top court had recently referred to the Law Commission to study the issue of death penalty in India to “allow for an up-to-date and informed discussion and debate on this subject”.
In its 262nd report, the bench noted, the Law Commission of India recommended abolition of the death penalty for all crimes other than terrorism-related offences and waging war — offences affecting national security.
Making these observations, the court said it was not inclined to award capital punishment to the convict in the murder case. “Therefore, confinement till natural life of the accused respondent shall fulfill the requisite criteria of punishment in peculiar facts and circumstances of the present case,” it held.
The court was hearing an appeal by the Maharashtra government, which had pressed for death penalty for one Nisar Ramzan Sayyed, who had in October 2010 set on fire his pregnant wife and thrown his minor son into the blaze, causing their death. While the trial court sent Sayyed to the gallows, the High Court acquitted him for want of concrete proof.
The apex court, after taking note of the dying declaration of his wife and other circumstantial evidence, held that Sayyed’s guilt was proved beyond reasonable doubt but this was not a “rarest of the rare case” that warranted him to be sentenced to death.