In 2015, India executed Yakub Memon, who had been convicted for his role in the 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai. He was the third person to be executed in India since 2012.

Last year, says a new global report by Amnesty International, Indian courts imposed at least 75 death sentences, almost all for murder.

Across the world, at least 1,634 people were executed in 25 countries, up from 1,061 in 2014, says the report, titled Death Sentences and Executions: 2015. This is an increase of more than 50%. Almost 90% of these executions were carried out in China. After that, the countries that executed significant numbers of people were Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The United States was a distant fifth.

More than half of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty and four more joined that list in 2015, making a total of 102.

At the end of last year, there were at least 320 people awaiting execution in India. India was one of four countries to have executed someone in 2015 after a gap in 2014. However, all four, including Bangladesh, Indonesia and South Sudan, had executed people in 2013.

Past executions

India has a patchy record when it comes to the death penalty. Although the state executed more than 100 people each year in the decade immediately after Independence, that number had declined by the 1990s to no more than three in a single year.

For several years, it even seemed as if the state had imposed an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty. From 1999 to 2003 and 2005 to 2011, India did not carry out any executions. The exception was Dhananjoy Chatterjee, a guard in Kolkata who was convicted for having raped and killed an 18-year-old and executed in 2004.

In 2012, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving attacker of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, was executed in secret at the Yerawada Jail in Pune. The next year, Afzal Guru was hanged for his involvement in the 2001 attack on Parliament and in 2015, it was Yakub Memon, for his role in the 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai.

There have been doubts cast upon some of these executions. For instance, Memon was convicted under TADA, a law that Amnesty International cited as containing “provisions incompatible with international fair trial standards”. It was dissolved and replaced by the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 2002.

The Law Commission again considered the merits of the death penalty, the Amnesty report said.

  “… the Commission concluded that the ‘death penalty does not serve the penological goal of deterrence any more than life imprisonment’ and that the reliance on the death penalty diverted attention from problems in the criminal justice system, including poor crime investigations and prevention programmes, as well as the rights of the victims of crime to compensation.”  

— Amnesty International

However, the commission did not recommend an outright abolition of the death penalty and suggested that it retain this for those involved in terrorism or acts of war against the country.