The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is the legal procedure through which a criminal is sentenced to death by the state. The term ‘capital’ derives from the Latin ‘capitalis’ (of the head). The terms “capital offences” and “capital crimes” refer to crimes that incur the death penalty. Virtually every civilisation has used the death penalty to punish the guilty for particular crimes, such as premeditated murder, espionage, or treason, or as part of military justice. In some countries, sexual offences such as rape, adultery, and sodomy, as well as religious offences such as apostasy, are punished by death. The goal of the death sentence is to dissuade individuals from committing a crime by instilling fear of its repercussions. This penalty pertains to the most terrible and traumatising crimes against society, including murder, rape, rape with murder, etc. The death penalty is used when a crime is so grave that it has the potential to terrorise society as a whole, however not all of the offences listed above justify the death sentence. The death sentence is reserved for the “rarest of the rare” offences.

Provisions on Death Penalty in Indian Statutes

  1. Indian Penal Code, 1860

The following offences in the Indian Penal Code carry the death sentence:

  • Under Section 121 of the IPC, anyone who tries or is successful in waging war against India may be executed for their actions.
  • In accordance with Section 132 of the IPC, anybody who aids in the commission of a mutiny by an officer, soldier, sailor, or pilot in the army, navy, or air force of the Government of India can be executed.
  • According to Section 194, if an innocent person is convicted and executed in consequence of fabricating evidence, the person who gives such false evidence is punishable by the death sentence.
  • Section 302 of the IPC stipulates that a person committing murder is subject to the death sentence.
  • Punishment for helping or enabling a person under the age of 18 or with an intellectual disability to commit suicide is outlined in Section 305 of the IPC. Anybody who commits this offence is subject to the death sentence.
  • Kidnapping for ransom or other reasons is a heinous crime that carries the death penalty. Section 364A defines the offence of kidnapping a person with the aim to inflict harm on them or cause death. Every individual who commits this offence is subject to the death sentence.
  • Section 376A provides the death punishment for a felony resulting in the victim’s death or persistent vegetative condition.
  • Repeat rape offenders may receive the death sentence under Section 376E.
  • Section 396 allows for the death punishment for dacoity with murder.
  1. The Prevention of Sati Commission Act of 1987

Section 4 stipulates that any individual directly or indirectly implicated in Sati is liable to the death sentence.

  1. Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985

Based on prior convictions, Section 31A of the NDPS Act imposes the death sentence for giving financial assistance or participating in the manufacture or sale of a predefined quantity of narcotics or psychotropic substances.

  1. Maritime Anti-Piracy Act, 2022

Section 3 of the newly signed law stipulates that piracy is punished by life in jail, a fine, or both, or by death or life in prison if the act of piracy causes death.

Constitutional Validity of Capital Punishment

The question of whether or not the death penalty should be used has sparked fierce debate around the globe. Every man has the right to live. Article 21 of the Indian constitution ensures the “protection of life and personal liberty” by stipulating that “no one shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty” unless in compliance with legal processes.  This has been taken legally to mean that if there is a legitimate and suitable approach, the state may deprive a person his life.

Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978 determined that this method must adhere to “due process.” The procedure for ending the sacred life of a person must be just, fair, and reasonable. In Mithu v. the State of Punjab (2001), the Supreme Court decided that Section 303 of the IPC  is unconstitutional since it violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has maintained the validity of the death penalty in cases like Jagmohan Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh. In Rajendra Prasad v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1979), Judge Krishna Iyer ruled that the death sentence violated Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution. This case highlights two prerequisites for inflicting the death sentence on any defendant. Initially, the cause or circumstances that led to the offender receiving this penalty must be documented. Second, it is only applicable in exceptional instances.

The “rarest of the rare doctrine” was laid down by the precedent-setting Bacchan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980) ruling, which also imposed the death sentence in certain situations. The Supreme Court maintained the legitimacy of the death sentence in this case by a vote of four to one, but imposed a rule mandating that it be administered only in the most severe circumstances. Even though it was ruled that the death penalty is an exception and life imprisonment is the norm, the Supreme Court did not define or prohibit the usage of the phrase “rarest of rare.”

In Mukesh and Anr. v. State (National Capital Territory of Delhi) (2017), the Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence for four inmates, calling it as “the rarest of the rare” and noting that the crime committed was heinous. The Supreme Court ultimately refused the prisoners’ pleas for reviews.


In conclusion, the death penalty is faulty and the system is in urgent need of reform. It is time for India to join the expanding number of nations that have abolished the death penalty and to concentrate on establishing fair, reasonable, and successful alternatives.