NEW DELHI: Records of death penalty convicts who have been executed since independence have gone missing from many prisons with the National Law University (NLU), conducting a first of its kind study, able to confirm data related to 755 executions since 1947.
"Some prison authorities have written to us that either the records have been lost or destroyed by termites," NLU director Anup Surendranath told TOI, who is heading the death penalty research project. The NLU is compiling data on all prisoners who have been executed since independence with the help of the central government.
The missing files are not only a serious lapse on part of prison authorities but has also hampered an ongoing attempt to study all death row convicts to ascertain the fairness of the capital punishment jurisprudence, particularly those who have been executed in independent India.
The casual attitude towards death row convicts is reflected in the loss of mercy pleas of Krishna Mochi and three others in the Krishna Mochi & Ors vs. Bihar case of 2001. Convicted by the TADA court, mercy pleas of the four have been lost by the Union home ministry. Their pleas were sent to the President in 2003, and a recent RTI response to Suhas Chakma of Asian Centre for Human Rights has revealed that the home ministry has no records available. "These papers have evidently been lost," Chakma said.
Loss of data on executed prisoners reflects poorly on the record-keeping of the government and the judicial system. Incidentally, the 35th report of the law commission had confirmed execution of at least 1,410 death row prisoners in a span of 10 years—between 1953 and 1963.
Data by the National Crime Records Bureau is also not without gaps. For example the NCRB claims that as many as 2,052 individuals were awarded capital punishment by courts between 1998 and 2013. And the NCRB also says between 2001 and 2013 the number of those whose death sentences were commuted was double: 4,497 persons.
CHRI's Venkatesh Nayak says that this is where the NCRB data becomes "questionable". "The discrepancies probably crept in when jail authorities counted all commutations even those of shortened prison time," he said.
"Information on executions are sourced from various prisons and courts across the country which do not reveal either the religious or caste backgrounds of the convicts who have been executed," Surendranath points out. The NLU report on death penalty is scheduled for release in mid-August where a detailed analysis of socio-economic profile, legal representation and duration on death row would be made public.
The NLU has conducted interviews of 373 surviving death penalty convicts and has drawn their socio-economic profile. The analysis of these surviving prisoners shows that an overwhelming majority of them are from backward class, religious minorities and economically vulnerable classes. In the category of terror offences, 94% prisoners sentenced to death are Dalits and religious minorities.
"We have been unable to find an exhaustive list of prisoners executed in India. However, as per a report of the Law Commission (1967), the total number of cases in which the sentence of death was executed from 1953 to 1963 was 1,410," Surendranath said.