Taking a human life is not easy. Therefore, due care and adequate caution has to be taken before an individual is deprived of his or her life by the State. If the State delays execution inordinately for one reason or the other, the delay must be counted in favour of the prisoner because living under the shadow of death is a lot worse than dying. That has been the position of law so far. However, the Apex Court seems disinclined to allow this beneficial reading of the law to come to the aid of those sentenced to death for committing acts of terror.
Although the support for death penalty as a mode of punishment is thinning by the day and it is falling into disfavour with an ever-increasing number of people the world over, India is nowhere close to letting go of it. Public opinion in our country is not only in favour of retaining death penalty, but is also for extending it to other offenses, like rape. It was under intense public pressure that the Indian legislature extended death penalty to certain cases of rape by a recent amendment to the Indian Penal Code, 1860 despite the fact that Justice Verma Committee did not opine in favour of death penalty for the offense.
Given the fact that death penalty is here to stay, we need to ensure that the time honoured doctrine of rarest of rare is adhered to so that we do not end up sending a great number of people to the gallows. After all, taking life is serious business.