Supreme Court to determine alternative methods for execution other than hanging, matter posted to May end.

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Today, the Supreme Court heard a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking to abolish the present practice of executing death row convicts by hanging and asked for its replacement with electrocution, shooting, lethal injection, or gas chamber. Death by hanging involves prolonged pain and suffering whereas other afore-mentioned practices will result in the death of a convict in just a matter of minutes (less painful death). In this context, the top Court posted the matter to the end of May and stated that it is a matter of great concern and required attention. While discussing the matter, Advocate Rishi Malhotra argued that a convict whose life is to end should not suffer the pain of hanging as nothing can be equated with dignity in death. In order to support the argument, the Advocate highlighted that hanging was slowly abandoned by various countries as a method of executing the death penalty. He further contended that approximately 35 states in the USA abandoned the practice of hanging. Along with this, cases, where the convicts had to be left hanging for two days, were addressed by the Advocate before the top Court. Advocate Malhotra further added, “Our own armed forces law provides for two choices- either by shooting or by hanging. These provisions are missing in our CrPC provisions… It is neither quick nor humane- 30 minutes the body keeps hanging till the doctor checks if the person is dead or not.”

The two-judge bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha looked for alternate methods in context with the cruel and barbaric nature of executing the death penalty by hanging. Justice Narasimha said, “The question of dignity is not under contest. Even the issue of minimum amount of pain is not in contest. The question which remains is what does science offer? Does it offer lethal injections? The judgment says no. Even in America, it was found lethal injection was not right.” Following the discussion, CJI presented his concern towards the use of lethal injections and stated that, “We cannot tell the legislature that you adopt this method. But you can certainly argue that something may be more humane…In lethal injections too, the person really struggles. On what basis does the Law commission say that lethal injection is not a lingering death? There has been great divergences on what chemicals are to be used too. What research is there?” Along with this, CJI Chandrachud asked Attorney General for India R Venkataramani to direct the Court regarding the matter. AG replied, “When a death penalty is executed, it’s executed in the presence of district Magistrate and Superintendent. Of course there may be some reports. What do these reports of these officers says? Do they indicate the extent of pain in prisoners?” He further added to come up with a better perspective regarding the matter. Also, CJI remarked that it would be better to create an expert committee for the same which will include experts from National Law Universities, scientists, and doctors from AIIMS. He further stated, “We can hear perspective on an alternate method or we can see- does this method satisfy the test of proportionality for it to be upheld? We must have some underlying data before we relook at it. You can come back to us by next week and we can formulate a small order and constitute the committee. We can hear on its remit.”