Voice from the Rooftop

Blog of Vincent Augustine D'Souza

Tag: Supreme Court

Politics over death penalty

It is a shame that some politicians want mercy for criminals whose mercy petitions are rejected by the President. Some months back a Sikh terrorist’s petition was rejected and Akali and Congress politicians from Punjab wanted mercy for him. The terrorist had gone to Supreme Court and wanted his petition to be settled one way or other and after the rejection he has gone to court challenging the dismissal.

Now some politicians from Tamil Nadu want mercy for three Tamil terrorists. It is perverse for Karunanidhi to ask mercy for Rajiv Gandhi’s killers claiming Rajiv Gandhi would have shown mercy under similar circumstances. Rajiv Gandhi did not die alone. Fifteen innocent people, including nine policemen on duty, died in the blast. No thought is given to them. The terrorists have appealed to Madras High Court on the ground of delay in decision. Karunanidhi, Vaiko and other politicians who oppose death penalty had lost elections.

Part of the problem is that India had wrong people as Presidents. The delay in deciding on mercy petitions started with K. R. Narayaran who did not want to reject any mercy petition. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam rejected one mercy petition and after that refused to reject. Pratibha Patil did not want to reject mercy petitions for three years and ten months. Governments of the day did not act against them and MPs did not impeach them.

Delay in deciding mercy petition is not cruel. There is no double punishment. Delayed time is bonus for criminals. They get to live longer. There is no anguish or psychological trauma. There is hope.

Jayalalitha said she has no power to pardon and the criminals can go to President again. Subramanian Swamy said the overwhelming majority of people in Tamil Nadu want the three hanged. There is no question of showing any compassion beyond normal process.

It is strange that High Courts entertain petitions related to death penalty decided by Supreme Court and rejected by President. There should be a ban on such things. There should be only one mercy petition and hanging should take place soon after rejection.

Death penalty is a deterrent

In one James Bond film it is said: Once can be happenstance. Twice can be coincidence. Thrice or more enemy is at work. On NDTV 24×7’s Left Right and Centre on three days Nidhi Razdan asked the question: Is death penalty a deterrent? She implied it was not. My answer is “Yes”.

First time Nidhi Razdan asked the question with regard to remarks by Justice Markandeya Katju about policemen who kill in fake encounters. He had said “Such policemen should be hanged. It is nothing but cold-blooded brutal murder, and yes, police personnel responsible should be hanged.” The discussion turned around fake encounters. Y. P. Singh said policemen do a noble job in an unethical way. It is a political call to control crime. The government of the day asks police to finish criminals. When there were gang wars in Bombay encounters took place and criminals disappeared.

There was no terrorist activity at the time. Later encounter specialists fell from grace. Encounters stopped. There were serial train blasts and 26/11. Last month there were three bomb blasts.

Second time was when it became known that Home Ministry has asked the President to reject Afzal Guru’s mercy petition. One panelist said he was opposed to death penalty in general. TSR Subramaniam said death penalty is given in rarest of rare cases and this is a rarest of rarest of rare case. Those who say Kashmir will go up in flames if Afzal Guru is hanged ignore the fact that Maqbool Butt’s hanging for the murder of Deputy High Commissioner Mhatre in Birmingham scared the living daylights out of JKLF.

Third time was on 11/8/2011. The President had rejected mercy petitions of three LTTE members. Renuka Chowdhury defended the decision. One panelist spoke of European Union and Gandhian philosophy. He forgot Gandhi’s killers were hanged. Ashok Desai and Nirmala Seetharaman were in favour of death penalty.

Opponents of death penalty engage in misinformation and disinformation.

First disinformation is that life sentence is worse than death penalty. It is not. Criminals don’t want to die and are happy to live in jail as long as they can. Some faint on the day of their hanging.

European Union (EU) countries have abolished death penalty. That is not a reason for India to abolish death penalty. We don’t have to follow EU countries. Some of them are bankrupt. Some are on the verge of bankruptcy. See the mess in England. During riots even rich people go to rob. In Norway some want death penalty for the terrorist who killed 76 people. China, USA, Japan and many other countries have death penalty. India is equal to all EU countries put together. EU is not paradise on earth.

Second disinformation is that murders have gone down in countries which abolished death penalty. Those who say that do not give any proof or lie about statistics.

Third disinformation is that death penalty does not serve any purpose of justice i.e., reformative, retributive and deterrent. Death penalty serves retributive and deterrent purposes.

There is misinformation that 26/11 terrorists were on a suicide mission. They were told to take some hostages. The government will negotiate and allow them to return. That did not happen. When a terrorist serves a life sentence there is the danger of abduction or hijacking for the release of the terrorist and the released terrorist killing many more. While nothing can be done about suicide bombers if those who send them are hanged that will reduce terrorists. Suicide bombers are given money and are told that their families will be taken care of once they die.

Some say a civilized country should not have death penalty. What is civilized about murder? Murder is a crime, pure and simple.

When death penalty was the norm there were not many encounter deaths and terrorist activities. After the Supreme Court strayed into the territory of executive and restricted death penalty to rarest of rare cases the situation changed.

In Pakistan there has not been death penalty for a long time and terrorism has increased. In Mexico murders multiplied after abolition of death penalty.

I have a suspicion that a lobbyist is behind the question.

Prashant Bhushan and Supreme Court

A bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Altamas Kabir, Cyriac Joseph and H. L. Dattu wants Prashant Bhushan to apologise to the court for saying in an interview to a magazine that half of the former CJIs were corrupt. Harish Salve had taken Prashant Bhushan to court saying he had cast aspersions on present CJI S. H. Kapadia also. That resulted in a contempt of court case. Supreme Court is not ready to accept truth as a justification for Prashant Bhushan’s statement and wants “one word of regret” from Prashant Bhushan. Prashant Bhushan is ready to utter “10 words of regret” to S. H. Kapadia. Altamas Kabir said it is not a matter of a person, but an institution.

An institution is made up of individuals. If individuals are corrupt they bring disrepute to the institution. Judges who were or are corrupt should be punished. It is a travesty of justice when corrupt judges go scot-free and people who speak the truth about corrupt judges are punished or asked to apologise. India’s national motto is Satyameva Jayate, truth always triumphs. Punishing people for speaking the truth is making a mockery of our national motto. The provision regarding contempt of court was meant to punish the people who defy court orders and not for punishing the people for speaking the truth, more so when they expose judicial corruption.

Prashant Bhushan should make public what he knows about corrupt CJIs. The law must be changed to hang corrupt CJIs. Prashant Bhushan has been in the forefront of fight against corruption and was in the committee to draft Lokpal Bill. He should not apologise. If he goes to jail it will show the abuse of the power of the court to punish the innocent. That may result in a law that will define contempt of court and take away the power of judges to act arbitrarily or scrapping the provision altogether. Many constitutions do not have the provision of contempt of court.

Udit Raj and Vineet Narain have mentioned some CJIs as corrupt. Why is Harish Salve silent about them? Vineet Narain is hostile to Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan.

Many times the Supreme Court has ordered CBI investigations in cases of corruption involving politicians and others. On some occasions the Supreme Court has set up Special Investigation Teams. In one case it appointed a prosecutor. Sometimes newspaper reports are treated as Public Interest Litigations. The Supreme Court should order an investigation in cases of corruption involving CJIs. If the charges are serious they should be behind bars like A. Raja, Suresh Kalmadi, Kanimozhi and so on. The judges should not have one standard for themselves and another standard for others. If the Supreme Court does not act, the government should act. If CJIs are in jail that will be a signal to judges that they are not above the law.

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