The decision of Punjab cabinet to recommend death penalty for drug smugglers in first instance of conviction has raised questions over Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s earlier stance on capital punishment.
As Punjab Congress chief when the party lost 2012 state polls and later as the CM, Amarinder had taken a firm stand against the death sentence. When the state was on the boil following orders to execute Babbar Khalsa terrorist Balwant Singh Rajoana, an accused in the assassination of former Punjab CM Beant Singh, on March 31, 2012, Amarinder had stridently opposed his hanging and hailed the then UPA-led central government for staying it.
In September last year, when the Law Commission of India sought views from states and Union Territories on its recommendation to abolish capital punishment except for terrorists, Amarinder had said in his opinion that capital punishment is “against basic human rights” and he supports its abolition.
In its report, the Law Commission had said it was time for India to move towards abolishing the death penalty immediately for all crimes other than terrorism-related offences and waging war, adding that capital punishment does not fulfil the goal of deterring crimes.
However, Punjab need not knock at the Centre’s door as states like Bihar have passed own Acts. The Bihar assembly had passed the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act, 2016, which made mixing poisonous substances with liquor punishable by death in cases where it leads to loss of life.
The Punjab cabinet decision has also raised doubts over its legal tenability as Punjab advocate general Atul Nanda was “informed” of it after the cabinet meeting.
“The decision was taken in the cabinet meeting by consensus following detailed discussions. No officers/AG were present in the cabinet meeting. The AG was however informed about the decision thereafter and he’s on board with it,” CM’s media adviser Raveen Thukral said. Nanda refused to comment on whether his opinion was sought.
The proposal was mooted by the CM and seconded by local government minister Navjot Singh Sidhu. “The law has to be feared. If there can be death penalty for raping girls under 12 years, why not against those wiping out an entire generation of Punjab,” Sidhu said.
Finance minister Manpreet Badal said there was complete consensus in the cabinet on death penalty. “If somebody gives poison to our children in front of our eyes, do they deserve a lighter punishment,” he said.
But as Captain government’s own commission would vouch for, drug cases are also harvested by political parties for vendetta. A large number of cases of political vendetta being probed by the Mehtab Singh Gill Commission are drug related. And the panel has recommended cancelling FIRs in many of them.
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