We are studying the death penalty: NHRC chief(Interview)

May 22nd, 2008 - 11:50 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Raj Thackeray
By Ritu Sharma
New Delhi, May 22 (IANS) The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is independently studying the validity of the death penalty in India, says its chief, Justice (Retd) S. Rajendra Babu. “Even though the government has not sought any suggestions from the NHRC so far, the panel has undertaken research with respect to the UN General Assembly’s resolution against capital punishment, in the Indian context,” Babu told IANS in an interview.

The General Assembly has passed a resolution for abolishing the death sentence all over the world, saying “it is not humane at all”, he said.

Babu’s statement assumes significance in the light of the mercy petition of parliament attack accused Afzal Guru which is pending with the president.

On Dec 13, 2001, five gunmen stormed the heavily guarded parliament complex and killed nine people before being shot dead. Afzal was awarded the death penalty, a verdict upheld by the Supreme Court. However, his hanging scheduled for Oct 20, 2006, was put off after his wife submitted a mercy petition to then president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Many international organisations have been rallying for removal of the death penalty awarded to him and calling for a ban on capital punishment.

Babu, who took over as the fifth chairperson of the NHRC in 2007, said: “The NHRC is studying the issue on its own and will give suggestions to the government if asked for.”

He also rejected recent claims by the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) that the Indian Army’s human rights record had deteriorated.

Babu said: “The Indian Army’s track record has not deteriorated. There have been voices to scrap the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act -AFSPA - from the northeast states, but the Supreme Court has upheld the validity of the act.

“The armed forces cannot exploit the powers as the Army Act is also in place in these areas. Sometimes some innocent people do get killed in the crossfire between the army and militants. The situation is not as alarming as it is made out to be,” he said.

Babu, who retired as chief justice of India on June 1, 2004, condemned as “hopeless” the state of prison affairs in the country and held Bihar jails as the worst in terms of reforms.

“Hopeless! It is bad. Starting from Tihar, all jails in the country are congested. Bihar’s jails are the worst. The panel is not satisfied with the prison reforms,” Babu said.

Tihar, one of Asia’s largest jails, has the capacity to house 6,250 prisoners, but the actual number lodged is nearly 12,000.

The NHRC chief also expressed concern at the violence carried out by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) of Raj Thackeray against outsiders.

“Article 19 of the Indian Constitution enables any person to move to any place and work. The problem is that locals there have a concept that ’sons of the soil’ (Marathi manoos) should get all the benefits.

“We have intervened in the situation in Maharashtra. But we can do so only to an extent. Migrants should be accepted locally,” he said.

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