By rejecting Bhullar’s plea the apex court has lost a "wonderful chance" to bring back peace and sanity on execution, Human Rights Law Network founder and senior Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonsalves said.

India was among the three countries that resumed executions in 2012 after many years of having none, according to Amnesty International’s latest report “Death Sentences and Executions 2012.” And now with the Supreme Court rejecting Khalistani terrorist Devinderpal Singh Bhullar’s plea for commutation of the death sentence, civil rights groups fear the country could see more executions this year.

Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru was hanged and the secrecy with which the execution was carried out in Delhi’s Tihar Jail without informing even his family about it triggered a controversy. The hanging came within six months of execution of Mumbai attack case convict Ajmal Kasab. There has been a lull in executions in India as the last person to go to the gallows was Dhananjoy Chatterjee in Kolkata in 2004.

But now Bhullar could be the first to go to the gallows while 18 other death-row convicts, whose mercy pleas have been rejected by the President, could follow suit. Of these 18 convicts, at least 11 are those whose death sentences were confirmed by the Supreme Court a decade ago.

However, with voices supporting the death sentence growing in India, human rights groups fear executions could rise. Another worrying factor is the growing number of death sentences being awarded every year. And now with more stringent anti-rape laws coming into force, the number could go up.

“During 2001-2011, lower courts granted the death sentence to at least 5,776 convicts … of these, death sentences of 4,321 convicts were commuted to life sentence. If India were to execute these death-row convicts per year, it would become one of the top executioners in the world. India’s return to dark ages where justice is described as synonymous of hanging will be too expensive for society,” says Asian Centre for Human Rights Director Suhas Chakma.

By rejecting Bhullar’s plea the apex court has lost a “wonderful chance” to bring back peace and sanity on execution, Human Rights Law Network founder and senior Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonsalves said. “They would now plead before the three-judge bench in the Supreme Court to hear the case of death-row convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case … we will try and convince them to grant mercy.”

Mr. Gonsalves said hanging in India would lead to severe social and political consequences. “The execution of Afzal Guru has created a lot of unrest in the Kashmir Valley … Hanging Bhullar will have a similar effect in Punjab. Keeping a death-row convict in prison for the rest of his life is enough instead of hanging him,” he asserted.

Stating that the death sentences were also creating political problems, Mr. Chakma said: “Executions only create alienation in society … the moment you hang someone, it would lead to certain sections trying to either fan passions or take political mileage out of it.”

Noting that the death sentence as a punishment had not worked as a deterrent as every day society was facing more and more ghastly crimes, Mr. Chakma said: “In such a scenario, rarest of rare is no longer remains rare … death penalty becomes a rule. India should join increasing members of the United Nations which are abolishing the death penalty and put a moratorium on the death penalty with the aim to ultimately abolish it.”

According to Amnesty International: “Only 21 of the world’s countries were recorded as having carried out executions in 2012 — the same number as in 2011, but down from 28 countries a decade earlier in 2003. ”

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