The proposed Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita bill, which seeks to replace the Indian Penal Code, has increased the number of crimes that can attract the death penalty from 11 to 15, reported The Hindu on Tuesday.

The new bill was introduced by Union Home Minister Amit Shah during the Monsoon Session of Parliament. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla had referred the bill, along with the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, to replace the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, to replace the Evidence Act, to the standing committee.

The bills were adopted by the panel on November 6.

In its report on the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, the committee said it has left it to the Union government to decide on the matter of capital punishment. It also said that the domain experts consulted on the topic “deliberated at great length about the need to abolish the death penalty”.

The experts submitted that the “rarest of rare case” doctrine should be defined in more objective terms if the death penalty has to be retained.

“The committee, after considering the submissions regarding the death penalty, has understood that the reason for a passionate argument against the death penalty is that the judicial system can be fallible and to prevent an innocent person from being wrongly sentenced to death,” it said.

According to a the Annual Statistics Report 2022, there were 539 prisoners on death row in India by the end of last year, the highest since at least 2016. The report was published by Project 39A, a programme conducted by the National Law University Delhi.

Opposition against death penalty

Congress MPs P Chidambaram and Digvijaya Singh and Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien submitted dissent notes against the provision of the death penalty in the new bill, showed the panel’s report.

Singh said in his note that the death penalty has been added to the new bills for at least four new crimes – mob lynching, organised crime, terrorism and rape of a minor. Although the Centre has claimed that the bills are “anti-colonial”, they retain the colonial nature of the current laws, he said.

Chidambaram said that it has been proven that the death penalty is not a crime deterrent.

“According to the data, the Supreme Court has affirmed the death penalty in only seven cases in the last six years,” he said. “While the imposition of the penalty itself causes distress and trauma, the wait before the sentence is set aside or confirmed causes distress many times more.”

He said that life imprisonment without parole is a more rigorous punishment and also opens a window of opportunity for the convict to reform.

O’Brien, in his note, pointed out that according to national statistics, 74.1% of individuals on death row in India come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

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