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21-03-2023

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Table of Content

  • GS-2 INDIAN POLITY
    • A case around the mode of capital punishment before the Supreme Court
  • Fact File
    • Kerala HC declares A Raja's election null and void: Can Christians, Muslims claim SC status?

    • Supreme Court frowns on mentioning caste in cause titles.



A case around the mode of capital punishment before the Supreme Court

GS-2 Indian Polity: Indian Constitution—Historical Underpinnings, Evolution, Features, Amendments, Significant Provisions and Basic Structure.

 

The Supreme Court requested the Centre to provide a defense for the law that permits hanging as a means of execution. The Attorney General for India, A R Venkataramani, has agreed to seek instructions from the government before the court establishes a committee to investigate the matter. Led by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, the bench is essentially reopening a long-standing dispute regarding whether there is a more compassionate and respectful approach to carrying out the death penalty.


 

The Case

  • An advocate named Rishi Malhotra filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in 2017, seeking a more humane method of carrying out the death penalty. He contended that it is cruel to force a convict, whose life is to be taken as punishment, to undergo the agony of hanging.
  • The PIL challenged the legitimacy of Section 354(5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, which states that a person sentenced to death must be hanged by the neck until they die.
  • In a significant decision in 1982, known as the "Bachan Singh v State of Punjab" ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty by a majority of 4:1.

 

Arguments in favour of Capital Punishment

  • Deterrent Effect: The death penalty serves as a deterrent for potential criminals as they fear the consequences of committing a crime that could lead to a death sentence.
  • Closure for Victims’ Families: Capital punishment provides a sense of closure for the families of victims, who may feel that justice has been served and the perpetrator has received a suitable punishment for their actions.
  • Cost-Effective: Some proponents argue that the death penalty is cost-effectivecompared to lifetime imprisonment, as it eliminates the need to support the offender for the rest of their life.
  • Retribution: Capital punishment is seen as a way of ensuring retribution for heinous crimes and sends a strong message that such crimes will not be tolerated in society. Some people believe that capital punishment is necessary for justice to be served. They argue that murderers, for example, deserve to be punished for their crime, and the death penalty is a just punishment for taking another person's life.


Arguments against the Capital Punishment

  • Risk of Executing Innocent People: There is always a risk of executing innocent people due to flawed legal systems, wrongful convictions, and false evidence.
  • Irreversible: The death penalty is irreversible, and once an execution is carried out, there is no way to correct any mistakes that may have been made.
  • Discrimination: Capital punishment has been criticized for being discriminatory against marginalized groups, particularly people of color and the poor, who are more likely to receive the death penalty.
  • Moral Concerns: There are also moral concerns associated with the death penalty, as some believe it violates the sanctity of human life and promotes a culture of revenge rather than justice.
  • Cruel and inhumane: Capital punishment is seen by many as a cruel and inhumane punishment. 
  • Not a deterrent: Some studies have found that capital punishment does not deter crime. The threat of the death penalty may not deter criminals from committing crimes, especially if they do not believe they will be caught.

 

The Govt’s stand

  • In 2018, the government claimed in its affidavit that hanging was the only feasible way to carry out a death sentence, but requested more time to examine execution methods used in other countries.
  • The Law Commission of India's 187threport from 2003 recommended amendingSection 354(5) of the CrPC to include an alternative means of executing a death sentence by administering a lethal injection until the convict's death.
  • The report proposed that the judge should have the discretion to make a decision on the mode of execution of the death sentence and listen to the convict's views on the matter before making the discretionary order.

 

The practice in other countries

  • Amnesty International reports that 55 countries have laws permitting the death penalty, with hanging being the most common method of execution, particularly in former British colonies. 
  • In the United States, all states that allow the death penalty (27 states and American Samoa) use intravenous lethal injection, with electrocution being a secondary option in certain states. 
  • China carries out executions by firing squad.
  • Saudi Arabia employs beheading and other methods.
  • In India, the Air Force Act of 1950, the Army Act of 1950, and the Navy Act of 1957 stipulate that the death penalty must be carried out by either hanging by the neck until dead or being shot to death.

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Supreme Court frowns on mentioning caste in cause titles

GS-2 Indian Polity: Structure, Organization and Functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary—Ministries and Departments of the Government.

 

The Supreme Court advised that mentioning the caste of parties involved in a case should be avoided in the cause title of judgments. The court explained that the caste of people involved in the matter need not be included in the name of the case file. 

 

The suggestion was made while hearing the case of 'State of Rajasthan vs Gautam Harijan,' which dealt with a rape convict's sentence reduction. The state government had contested a Rajasthan High Court judgment, which upheld the conviction of a rape convict but reduced his sentence based on factors such as his age, imprisonment period, and being a first-time offender. The man had been found guilty by a trial court under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) of 2012.



 

Previous ban on mentioning caste in Rajasthan High Court

  • On April 25, 2020, Advocate on Record Amit Pai raised concerns over the practice of mentioning caste of parties in court filings.
  • The concern was raised in the aftermath of a widely publicised virtual hearing in the case of 'Lala Ram S/o Shyoji Ram, By Caste Gurjar vs State of Rajasthan'.
  • On April 27, 2020, the Rajasthan High Court issued a "Standing Order" disallowing the practice of mentioning the caste of any person, including the accused, in any "judicial or administrative matter".
  • The order relied on a Rajasthan High Court order dated July 4, 2018, in 'Bishan vs State of Rajasthan', which ordered that the police shall not mention the caste of an individual in the arrest memo, except in cases under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
  • The recent advice of the Supreme Court, given while hearing the case 'State of Rajasthan vs GautamHarijan', supports the practice of not mentioning the caste of parties in the cause title of judgments.

 

Several other High Courts have expressed disapproval of this practice

  • The Himachal Pradesh High Court in the case of ‘Kishan Kumar vs State of Himachal Pradesh’ on September 16, 2016, directed the state’s Principal Secretary to issue directions to all Investigating Officers to stop the practice of mentioning one’s caste separately in criminal proceedings.
  • The court stated in its judgment that as a public policy, the caste system should be shunned.
  • The court directed that the caste of the accused, witnesses, or victims should not be mentioned in recovery or seizure memos, FIRs, inquest papers, and other forms, as prescribed in the CrPC.
  • The Punjab & Haryana High Court on March 25, 2019, in ‘Rakesh Sharma & Others vs State of Haryana’ observed that the practice of mentioning caste in criminal proceedings was a colonial legacy and needed to be stopped immediately.
  • The court stated that mentioning caste/status separately in criminal proceedings was not permissible and referred to the Constitution's guarantee of a casteless and classless society.
  • The court instructed all judicial officers to refrain from the practice of mentioning caste names in FIRs, memos, inquest papers, etc.

 

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Fact File


Kerala HC declares A Raja’s election null and void: Can Christians, Muslims claim SC status?

  • A Raja, a CPI(M) legislator, was disqualified by the Kerala High Court from his election as a representative of the Devikulam Assembly constituency in Idukki district. 
  • The reason for this decision was that Raja, who had changed his religion and become a baptized Christian, could not contest from a seat reserved for members of the Scheduled Castes (SC). 
  • The case raised the issue of whether Muslim and Christian Dalits could be included in the SC category, which has been examined by both the judiciary and the legislature in the past.


The Union’s stand

  • In November 2022, the Apex Court considered the issue of whether Muslim and Christian Dalits could be included in the Scheduled Castes (SC) category in the case of 'Centre for Public Interest Litigation and Another vs Union of India'.
  • The Central government submitted that the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order, 1950, which was challenged in the present case, was based on historical data showing that members of Christian or Islamic society did not face any backwardness or oppression.
  • The government's affidavit added that Dalits convert to Islam or Christianity to escape the oppressive system of untouchability in Hinduism, which is not present in either of the two religions.
  • The Centre quoted a dissenting note from the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities report stating that Islam and Christianity are foreign religions that do not recognize the caste system.
  • The report argued that conferring SC status on converts would amount to introducing the caste system in those religions.
  • On October 7, 2022, the Centre established a three-member commission headed by former CJI KG Balakrishnan to examine the grant of SC status to those who historically belonged to the scheduled castes but had subsequently converted to other religions.
  • The Commission is expected to submit its report in 2024.

The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950

  • In 1950, the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order was issued under Article 341 of the Constitution, which allowed the President to publicly notify and specify the castes, races or tribes or parts of or groups within castes, races or tribes that will be deemed as Scheduled Castes for the purposes of the Constitution.
  • The original order, passed in 1950, permitted only Hindus to be classified as SCs.
  • The order was later amended in 1956 to include Sikhs and in 1990 to include Buddhists.
  • Despite these amendments, no provisions were made to include backward communities within Christians and Muslims under the definition of SCs.

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