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Report No. 35

Chapter II

Move for Abolition

Topic Number 6

History of the abolition move in India

12. History of the abolition move in India (1953-1963).-

The question of abolition of death sentence was raised in the old Legislative Assembly in 1931, when Shri Gaya Prasad Singh sought to introduce a Bill to abolish the punishment of death for offences under the Indian Penal Code. The Bill was introduced on the 27th January, 1931, and on the 17th February, 19311, a motion for circulation was made. The motion was negatived after the reply of the then Home Minister Sir James Crerar.

The mover, in support of his motion, cited the examples of other countries which had abolished the death sentence, pointing out that the abrogation of death penalty had not landed human society into chaos, and argued that capital punishment had a demoralizing effect on the human mind. The dangers of conviction of innocent persons and the misery caused to the wife and children of the condemned man, were also dwelt upon. The following point was made in this connection:-

"Every human judgment is liable to be mingled with error, and the torture of knowing that a man had been hanged through what he believed was a blunder is among the most vivid memories of Lord Carigmyle, the famous Scottish Judge, better known as Lord Shaw of Dunfermline, who became a confirmed opponent of capital punishment. (Amrita Bazar Patrika, dated 12th June, 1930). Sir, in my own province of Bihar, some time back, as many as five persons were condemned to death, and the sixth to be transported for life, by the Sessions Judge of Shahabad, on a charge of murder in a case which was got up by a Sub-Inspector of Police.

Subsequently, owing to the attitude taken by the local public, whose conscience was shocked, an elaborate official inquiry had to be instituted, which showed that the case which had ended in the conviction of the accused for murder was entirely false. The Local Government was satisfied by evidence which was subsequently discovered that the case was altogether false and concocted and directed the release of the condemned persons. The Sub-Inspector of Police concerned and three other persons, who were found to be implicated in this remarkable conspiracy, were hauled up before the Patna High Court, and convicted. (Searchlight, dated 22nd January, 1930).".

1. Legislative Assembly Debates (1931), Vol. 1, p. 949.

13. The Home Member, however, in his reply pointed out, first that in many countries death sentence had been restored after abolition (He cited the examples of France and Germany); secondly, that in the abolition countries, the enactments abolishing death sentences were made after a very long period of experiment; thirdly, that in his experience as Home Member and from the familiarity he had gained with homicides throughout the length and breadth of India, he could recite to the House "crimes of so dreadful a character that one is presented with the very pressing question whether in cases of that kind any punishment other than capital punishment could on any theory of crime be regarded as the proper punishment".

Fourthly, he also stated that the Indian law was more elastic than the English law, as it empowered the Courts to pass an alternative sentence. In this connection, he stated, "it is my experience, both as an official in a Local Government and as an official and a Member of the Government of India, that that discretion is very frequently, and I think on the whole, very wisely and judiciously exercised.".

14. We may now briefly trace here the history of the abolition move in India in recent times.

15. We may first refer to the Bill introduced by Shri Mukund Lal Agrawal1, in the first Lok Sabha2-3.

The first reading of the Bill was moved on the 24th August, 1956, and the discussion was resumed and concluded on the 23rd November, 1956, when the Bill was rejected on the opposition of the Government. Numerous points were put forth in the speech of the mover of the Bill4, which included a review of the position prevailing in other countries, and emphasised the futility of capital punishment as a deterrent and its primitiveness5.

1. Before this, on Shri M.A. Kazmi's Bill to amend section 302, IPC certain discussions took place in 1952 and 1954, and, in the course of the discussion, some members, e.g., Venkataraman from Tanjore, raised, the question of abolition. See Bill No. 77 of 1952, (withdrawn), Lok Sabha Debates, 1952, Vol. III, Part. II, No. 10, Cols. 391-3922, dated 16th July, 1952, Vol. IV, Part II, No. 1, Cols. 4902-4912, dated 30th July 1952; Lok Sabha Debates, 1954, Vol. II, Part II, dated 12th March, 1956, Cols. 2054-2058; and Vol. III, Part II, Cols. 3146-3160, dated 26th March 1954.

2. Bill No. 24 of 1956 (Lok Sabha). See Lok Sabha Debates, 1956, Vol. I, Part II, Col. 3538, dated 23rd March, 1956; Lok Sabha Debates, Vol. VII, Part II, Cols. 4345-4388, dated 24th August, 1956; and Lok Sabha Debates Vol. XI, Part II, Cols. 916-986, dated 23rd November, 1956.

3. For details, see Agrawal Capital Punishment abolition move in India, AIR 1958 Journal 69 (73).

4. Shri M.L. Agrawal.

5. See also discussion in this Report, under "Arguments for Abolition" para. 152 et seq., infra.

16. Thereafter, Shri Prithvi Raj Kapor moved a Resolution for the abolition of capital punishment in the Rajya Sabha, in 19581. The Resolution was withdrawn after debate; the mover observing, "The purpose of my Resolution is served; the ripples are created and it is in the air. By votes such delicate things are not decided. Let that tomorrow be there which I have been promised.".

1. See Rajya Sabha Debates, 25th April, 1958, Cols. 431 to 442 and 444 to 528.

17. A Resolution for the abolition of capital punishment was moved in 1961 in the Rajya Sabha1, by Smt. Savitry Devi Nigam, but that was negatived after discussion.

1. See Rajya Sabha Debates, 25th August, 1961, Cols. 1681 to 1784 and 8th September, 1961, Cols. 3780 to 3836.

18. After this, Shri Raghunath Singh's Resolution for the abolition of capital punishment was discussed in the Lok Sabha, in 19621. The Resolution was withdrawn after discussion. Shri Harish Chandra Mathur had moved an amendment that the matter may be referred to the Law Commission. The Government gave an assurance that a copy2 of the discussion that took place in the House would be forwarded to the Law Commission, which was seized of the question of examining the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Penal Code, with a view to considering as to whether any changes are necessary therein.

Thereafter, in 1963, a question was put in the Rajya Sabha on the subject3. In the answers to the supplementary on the question, Government gave an assurance that a copy of the debates that had taken place in the Rajya Sabha in 1961 on the resolution of Smt. Savitry Devi Nigam would be forwarded to the Law Commission4.

1. Lok Sabha Debates, April 21, 1962, Cols. 307 to 365, particularly Cols. 354 and 355.

2. The copy was duly forwarded to this Commission

3. See Rajya Sabha Debates, dated 19th December, 1963.

4. The copy was duly forwarded to this Commission.

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