NEW DELHI, JANUARY 19: The Supreme Court said today that the death sentence must be awarded in extreme cases like ‘‘bride burning’’, ‘‘dowry death’’ and ‘‘in cases of crime of enormous proportion’’ and set five guidelines for all courts to follow in the future.
The ruling comes amid debate across the world on abolishing capital punishment. It is significant since underworld don Abu Salem was extradited to India from Portugal on the condition that no death penalty would be imposed on him.
A division bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat and Tarun Chatterjee, hearing a Union of India appeal on court martial proceedings against an army general officer commanding who had murdered three fellow armymen, said that to award the ‘‘extreme penalty’’ of death, ‘‘a balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances has to be drawn up’’.
The Supreme Court reiterated its earlier guidelines that death sentence must be awarded when:
• The murder is committed in an extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical, revolting or dastardly manner so as to arouse intense and extreme indignation of the community;
When the murder is committed for a motive which evinces total depravity and meanness like murder by hired assassin for money or reward or cold blooded murder for gains and/or the murder is committed in the course of betrayal of the motherland;
• When murder of a member of Scheduled Caste or minority community is committed not for personal reasons but in circumstances which arouse social wrath; in cases of bride burning, dowry deaths or in cases of murder committed in order to remarry;
• When the crime is enormous in proportion—like multiple murders, large number of people of a particular caste, community or locality;
• When the murder victim is an innocent child or a helpless woman or old or infirm person or murder of a public figure generally loved and respected by the community.
Terrorist offences fall under the category of ‘‘betrayal of motherland’’ and since Salem was allegedly involved in the Mumbai serial blasts that took a high toll, the Indian trial court has to go by the apex court’s directions and guidelines.
In fact the trial judge in Mumbai had already stated he would go by the Indian laws in the matter, triggering a debate on the death sentence in general and the ‘‘extradition conditions’’ in particular.
The SC’s judgement also underlines that ‘‘life imprisonment is the rule and death sentence is an exception’’ to be awarded only in ‘‘gravest cases of extreme culpability’’.