New Delhi : Even as debate goes on to abolish death sentence or not, the latest statistics released by the National Law University (NLU) of Delhi says 371 were on the death row in India as on December 31, 2017. Its research says the total number of persons sentenced to death by the session courts came down from 149 in 2016 to 109 in 2017.

This is the second report by NLU. Its first report created a controversy as it claimed 755 persons have been hanged since Independence as against the government’s official claim of only 52 sent to the gallows so far, half of them i.e. 26 only since 1991. The last hanging was of Yakub Memon in 2015 on conviction for terrorism.

The NLU research showed that as many as 1617 prisoners were sentenced to death by the trial courts since 2000, but the capital punishment was confirmed by the Apex Court in only 71 cases.

The Law Commission of India, in its report in 1967, put the total number of cases in which the death sentence was awarded in India from 1953-63 was 1410. In 2015, the Law Commission recommended abolition of the death sentence, except in cases of waging war against nation and terrorism offences, pointing out that 140 countries have already abolished it.

The Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence as the legal penalty while the government has twice stood by justification of the capital punishment in 2007 and 2012 by opposing the United Nations General Assembly resolutions against the capital punishment.

The Supreme Court heard death penalty cases of 7 convicts in 2017 and confirmed all of them. Out of the 7 confirmations, one was a criminal appeal with 4 prisoners and two were review petitions with 3 prisoners. The apex court did not commute or acquit any prisoners in 2017.

This marks a departure from the trend witnessed in 2016, when the Supreme Court did not confirm a single criminal appeal in death penalty cases that came before it. In 2015, the Supreme Court had considered the death sentences of nine prisoners and confirmed eight.

A state-wise analysis of persons sentenced to death in 2017 reveals that Maharashtra leads the pack with 23. Close behind is Uttar Pradesh with 19, followed by Tamil Nadu 13.

There is a spurt in the number of persons sentenced to death for murder involving sexual violence. It has gone up from 24 in 2016 to 43 in 2017.

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