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Nirbhaya case: From 'Isolated cell' to 'Gallows' - Here's how death convicts will be treated

This article throws light upon the procedures followed for the death convicts until execution.

Nirbhaya case: From Isolated cell to Gallows - Heres how death convicts will be treated
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India- one of the safest democratic nations in the world, has a judiciary system that rarely provides capital punishment for the convicts. This article shares the insights on the procedures followed to execute a death row convict.

The recent developments in the Nirbhaya case and the gang-rape and murder of a 26-year-old woman doctor in Hyderabad, who was burnt alive after being raped late last year, have renewed the focus on death penalty in India and the mode of its execution.

Even with the continuous mercy petitions, the four convicts in the Nirbhaya gang rape case, currently lodged in Delhi's Tihar Jail, are facing their execution which is likely to be on February 1, 2020.

As per Indian laws, hanging is the only mode of executing a death sentence for civilians. The law however allows death by shooting in cases related to the armed forces if the court martial hearing the case deems it fit.

Procedures followed for the execution:
1. Once the trial court sentences the convicts, the court order will be sent to the high court for approval, which also likely to be considered as an appeal of the convict. In most cases the High Court is considered to uphold the orders of the lower court.
The accused has right to file an appeal to apex court and also approach the President of India with mercy petition.
2. A warrant is issued by the trial court, once all the appeals are exhausted by the convicts, directing the jail authorities to prepare for the execution.
3. Until the period of execution, the convicts have the right to meet mental health professionals as per the order of Supreme Court (order dated dec 13,2018).
4. The prisoner who is convicted will be lodged in a isolated cell with high compound walls and all the means by which he can harm himself (like a belt or pyjama cord) are removed.
5. In Nirbhaya case, as per sources, the convicts are lodged in separate cells and conversation among them is barred.
6. A dummy of the weight of the convict is used for trial hanging to ensure the fall in gallows is swift. The levers are lubricated and checked for smooth transition.
7. The rope used for execution will be locked in an isolated room. A hang man is summoned as soon as warrant is issued. In case four prisoners (as in the case of Nirbhaya) are to be hanged at the same time,  four hangmen are likely summoned to pull the respective levers at the same instant.
The Delhi Jail Manual prescribes a detailed process involving various steps that are required to be followed before a hanging takes place.
8. Paragraph 872 of the Delhi Jail Manual says, an execution shall take place early in the morning before it gets bright. It also says that a prisoner can't be hanged on a day that has been notified as a public holiday.
9. The jail manual categorically says that no prisoner should be allowed to witness the execution of a fellow inmate and neither should the convict who is to be hanged be made to see the gallows.
"Prisoners of all categories shall be kept locked up until the execution is over and the body removed from the prison," the manual states.
10. The jail superintendent, deputy superintendent and medical officer in charge and resident medical officer shall be present at all executions. Apart from this, the manual says the local district magistrate, and in his absence additional district magistrate, shall attend the execution and countersign the warrant.
11. No relatives of the convicts will be allowed to witness the execution. But will be informed a fortnight before, to collect the valuables if any, from the prison authorities.
However, the jail manual grants an exception to those who can witness an execution. It states that after taking prior permission from the government, the jail superintendent can allow social scientists, psychologists, psychiatrists etc. who are conducting a research on matters related to death sentence to be present during the execution.
12. On the day of hanging the convicts is brought to the gallows, blind folded.
After the execution procedure, the body lies hung in the rope for 30 minutes, after which the medical officer issues a death certificate. The body is then handed over to the claimant.
As per the jail manual, "If the convict desires, a priest of his/her faith may be allowed, at the discretion of jail superintendent, to be present at the place of execution, subject to the requirements of security and prison discipline".

Death penalty cases earlier:

The crimes punishable with death term in India fall under The Prevention of Child Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) 1999, Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) 1985, among others.

According to 'The Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics' published by Project 39A at National Law University, Delhi, as many as 720 prisoners have been executed in India since 1947. One of the initial executions of independent India, was of Nathuram Godse and Narain D Apte, assassins of Mahatma Gandhi; they were hanged to death in Ambala Central Jail in Haryana on November 15, 1949.

The last execution that had taken place in India was on July 30, 2015 of Yakub Memon, a convict in financing 1993 Mumbai bombings. Prior to Memon, Muhammad Afzal Guru, who was convicted in the 2001 Parliament attack was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court on December 18, 2002. He was hanged on February 9, 2013, ten years after his sentencing.

The special court had sentenced Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, the 2008 Mumbai attack gunman, to death on May 6, 2010 and he was executed two years later on November 21, 2012 after the then President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his mercy petition.

Both Qasab and Guru were executed in secrecy without informing their family members or to the public. The world got to know only after the hanging had been carried out.

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