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Why Kasab death penalty is 'rarest of rare'

May 06, 2010 14:38 IST

When Judge M Tahliyani sentenced Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist arrested during the November 26, 2008, carnage in Mumbai, to the gallows, he used a sentence that said that this particular case fell under the bracket of the 'rarest of rare cases'.

The usage of the phrase 'rarest of rare cases' has a very interesting history attached to it in India.

Prior to 1980, all death sentences were handed out under the provision of Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code. However, if you now look at the IPC clearly, the Section 303 shall now read as repealed.

The Supreme Court repealed Section 303 in 1980 while hearing the Bachan Singh case. The court had found that the Section 303 was being misused by the lower courts, which were sentencing people to death at will and without any regulation.

An Apex court bench headed by Justice Y Chandrachud on May 9, 1980 ruled that Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code was unconstitutional and that there was a need to strike it down or repeal it.

The bench was hearing an appeal filed by Bachan Singh, who had challenged the death sentence awarded to him under Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code.

The bench held that the provisions of a death sentence shall be included in Section 302, which states that person booked for murder shall be sentenced either to life imprisonment or shall be handed out death sentence. The court also directed the subordinate courts to be extremely watchful while using the powers to hand out a death penalty and made it clear unless and until the court is completely satisfied that the case falls under the purview of the 'rarest of rare cases', death sentence shall not be handed out.

There are various factors that go into a case falling under the bracket of 'rarest of rare' cases.

Mass murders and acts of terrorism fall under this bracket. If it is a solitary murder and the accused person has shown remorse, he shall not be handed out death penalty. If the murder is cold-blooded and the accused has shown no remorse, it would then satisfy the 'rarest of rare case' criteria.

Vicky Nanjappa