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DEVINDER PAL SINGH BHULLAR:

INJUSTICE IN INDIA

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT UPON DEVENDER PAL SINGH BHULLAR
A case study of Criminal Appeal No.993 of 2001
Devenderpal Singh Bhullar
Versus
State National Capital Territory of Delhi and another
Facts:
On September 11, 1993, Maninderjit Singh Bitta, the then President of All
India Youth Congress(I) was in his office at 5, Raisina Road, New Delhi. At about
2.30 p.m., he left the office in his official car. A pilot car in which security
personnel provided to him were sitting, was moving ahead of his car. As the pilot
car took a turn towards the Raisina Road, there was a big explosion in a car
parked outside the office of Mr. Bitta. In this bomb blast, nine persons died and
twenty nine persons sustained injuries. Mr. Bitta sufferred injuries on his leg. As
per the police version, it was learnt that five members of ‘Khalistan Liberation
Force’(KLF), a terrorist organisation of sikhs was responsible for the crime.
Kuldeep, Sukhdev Singh, Harnek, Devenderpal Singh and Daya Singh Lahoria
were accused of committing terrorist offence to assassinate M.S.Bitta. None of the
above persons were arrested for a long time.
Devenderpal Singh Bhullar was deported from Germany while Daya Singh
Lahoria, a co-accused was extradited from USA to India and both were tried
together for the offences under TADA Act, 1987 and various sectioins of Indian
Penal Code by the designated court at Delhi. But Daya Singh Lahoria was
acquitted by the trial court on the ground that there was no evidence against him
and that he has not made any confessional statement.
Devender Pal Singh Bhullar alias Deepak, who had entered Germany to
seek asylum on December 18/19, 1994 was detained by the airport authorities at
Germany for travelling on fake passport. Ultimately, he was deported back to
India on January 17, 1995 and was handed over to Inspector Severara Kujur at
Indira Gandhi International Airport,New Delhi on January, 19, 1995. On being
caught, Bhullar allegedly tried to swallow a capsule in plastic foil which was
caught and after this he disclosed that his name was Devenderpal Singh. On that
basis, he was interrogated by Public Relations Officer(Vigilance) and it was found
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that he was having forged passport, so a formal First Information Report No.22
dated 19.1.1995, was registered against Bhullar under sections 419,420,468,471 of
Indian Penal Code and section 12 of the Passport Act.
As per the police story, he made a disclosure statement describing his
involvement in many cases including a bomb blast at 5, Raisina Road, Delhi. He
was thereafter produced before Mr.B.B.Chaudhary, Additional Chief Metropolitan
Magistrate, New Delhi and was remanded to police custody for ten days. During
interrogation on January 22, 1995, Bhullar gave a writing that he wanted to make a
confession. Mr.B.S.Bola, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Delhi after following the
procedure recorded his ‘confessional statement’ with the help of his computer on
January 23, 1995. On January 24, 1995, he was formally arrested by the police of
Police Station Sriniwaspuri in the TADA case and thereafter, produced in the
court of ACMM, Delhi before the expiry of police remand. At that time, a police
party of Punjab police was present in the court and the Punjab police obtained his
police remand and thereafter, he remained in police custody of Punjab Police for
more than two months. After he was remanded to judicial custody, he sent an
application from jail on April 21, 1995 to the court that he was made to sign on
many blank papers and his confessional statement recorded by DCP, B.S.Bola was
not voluntary and that he was told that if he will speak the truth before the court,
he would be handed over to Punjab police who would kill him in an encounter
and as he was under fear, he admitted of making a ‘confessional statement’ before
the learned ACMM.
Both Devenderpal Singh Bhullar and Daya Singh Lahoria were brought to
trial in the Court of the designated court-I, New Delhi in sessions case no.4 of
2000.After recording extensive evidence in the case, the trial judge convicted
Mr.Bhullar vide order dated August 24, 2001 and sentenced him to death and also
to pay a fine of Rs.10,000/- vide judgment dated August 25, 2001. He was also
sentenced to suffer rigorous imprisonment for five years for the offence
punishable under sections 4 and 5 of TADA and to pay a fine of Rs.10,000/-. Daya
Singh Lahoria was however, acquitted of all charges.
Against that judgment and order, Mr.Bhullar filed criminal appeal no.993
of 2001 and for confirmation of death sentence, the state of Delhi filed death
reference case no.2 of 2001 before the Supreme Court of India.
The Supreme Court of India with an unprecedented speed, dismissed the
appeal of Mr.Bhullar and confirmed the death sentence upon him, vide order
dated March 22, 2002. Interestingly, the senior judge of the bench, Mr.Justice
M.B.Shah in his minority judgment gave sound reasons for his acquittal and held
him ‘not guilty’. But the majority view authored by Mr.Justice Arijit Pasayat and
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accepted by Mr.Justice B.N.Agarwal, held Mr.Bhullar guilty and confirmed the
death sentence.
EXCERPTS FROM THE JUDGMENT
Per M.B.Shah,J.
ÞFrom the aforesaid evidence led by the prosecution, questions that arise for
consideration are-----
(i) whether the confessional statement is true and voluntary ?
(ii) whether there is any corroboration to the said statement ?
ÞThe accused in his statement recorded under section 313 Cr.P.C. has denied
recovery of cyanide capsule from him. He has also denied having made
application, expressing desire to make a confessional statement and also having
made any confessional statement before Mr.Bola on January 23, 1995. According to
him he was made to sign some blank and partly written papers under threat and
duress and entire proceedings were fabricated upon those documents. He also
stated that before he was produced before the ACMM, he was told that if he made
any statement to the court he would be handed over to Punjab police who would
kill him in an encounter and as he was under fear, he made a statement before
learned ACMM.
ÞIt is difficult to believe that the accused who was arrested for travelling on a
forged passport after landing at the airport, would make a disclosure statement
involving himself in various crimes including the bomb blast. There was no
earthly reason to make such disclosure on 19th itself so that accused could be
arrested by Mr.K.S.Bedi,ACP, for the alleged involvement in the offence under the
TADA.
ÞIt is also admitted that when the accused was produced before ACMM, the
confessional statement was not produced for the perusal of the ACMM. It would
be difficult to accept that if confessional statement was recorded and when the
accused was produced before the Magistrate, he would be taken there without the
said confessional statement. Rule 15(5) of TADA requires that every confessional
recorded under section 15 shall be sent forthwith to the CMM or the CJM having
jurisidiction over the area in which such confession has been recorded and such
Magistrate shall forward the confession so received to the Designated court which
may take cognizance of the offence.
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Þ The confessional statement was recorded on computer and floppy thereof is
not produced in the court and is admitted to have not been saved in the computer
by ASI Kamlesh.
Þ In such state of affairs, doubt may arise---whether the accused has made any
confessional statement at all; In such case, it would be unsafe to solely rely upon
the alleged confession recorded by Investigating Officer.
Þ Looking at the original confessional statement, there appears to be some
substance in what is contended by the accused in his statement under section 313
Cr.P.C. that his signatures were taken on blank paper. Under Rule 15(3)(b) of the
TADA rules, the police officer who is recording the confession has to certify the
same “under his own hand” that the said confession was taken in his presence and
recorded by him and at the end of confession, he has to give certificate as provided
thereunder. In the present case, the certificate was not given under the hands of
DCP, but was a typed one.
Þ In the present case, co-accused Daya Singh Lahoria who was tried together
with the accused was acquitted on the ground that there was no evidence against
him and that as he had not made any confessional statement. However, for
connecting the appellant, the learned trial judge relied upon the decision in
Gurdeep Singh vs State(Delhi Admn.) for holding that when the confessional
statement is voluntary, corroboration is not required. It appears that the court has
not read the entire paragraph of the said judgment and has missed the previous
lines.
Þ In the present case other accused Daya Singh Lahoria was tried alongwith the
appeallant and was acquitted. The role assigned to D.S.Lahoria in the confessional
statement is major one. There is nothing on record to corroborate the aforesaid
confessional statement. In these set of circumstances, without there being
corroborative evidence, it would be difficult to solely rely upon the so-called
confessional statement and convict the accused and that too when the confessional
statement is recorded by the investigating officer.
Þ In this view of the matter, when rest of the accused who are named in the
confessional statement are not convicted or tried, this would not be a fit case for
convicting the appellant solely on the basis of so-called confessional statement
recorded by the police officer.
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Þ Finally, such type of confessional statement as recorded by the investigating
officer cannot be the basis for awarding death sentence.
Þ In the result, criminal appeal filed by the accused is allowed and the impugned
judgment and order passed by the designated court convicting the appellant is set
aside. The accused is acquitted for the offences for which he is charged and he is
directed to be released forthwith if not required in any other case.
Per A.Pasayat J.
Þ Menace of terrorism is not restricted to our country and it has become a matter
of international concern and the attacks on the World Trade Centre and other
places on 11th September, 2001 amply show it. Attack on the Parliament on 13th
December, 2001 shows how grim the situation is. TADA is applied as an extreme
measure when police fails to tackle with the situation under the ordinary penal
law.
Þ The confessional statement of the accused can be relied upon for the purpose of
conviction and no further corroboration is necessary if it relates to the accused
himself.
Þ In this case, we are concerned with the question as to whether the accused
making the confessional statement can be convicted on the basis of that alone
without any corroboration.
Þ It is true that the witnesses have not spoken about the role of the appellant in
the alleged transactions.
Þ It is to be noted further that the appellant’s so called retraction was long after
he was taken into judicial custody. While he was taken to judicial custody on
24.3.1995, after about a month, he made a grievance about the statement having
been forcibly obtained. This is clearly a case of after-thought. Since the
confessional statement was voluntary, no corroboration for the purpose of its
acceptance is necessary.
ÞMerely because no statement has been made by witnesses about the attempt to
swallow the cyanide, that does not, in any way, dilute the evidence recording
seizure of a cyanide capsule from the accused-appellant. Mention about the
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cyanide capsule in the confessional statement goes a long way to show that the
statement was truthful.
Þ When the accused was produced before the ACM, he did not make any
grievance that his confessional statement was not in fact recorded as claimed or
that his signatures were obtained on blank pieces of paper as claimed latter. Such
a plea was raised after a long passage of time. It is further relevant to note that
when the accused was produced in court, he never made any grievance about any
duress or coercion. It is to be noted that the confessional statement was sent
directly to the Designated court and was received at 12.45 p.m. Merely because the
report was sent directly to the Designated court, it does not become a suspicious
circumstance. Rather, it addres to the authenticity of the document.
Þ That being so, in the absence of any prejudice to the accused, non-despatch of
the confessional statement to the ACM is really of no consequence.
Þ The accused never made a grievance about any deficiency in the confessional
statement till 19.4.1995. That is of great significance. Merely because the
confessional statement was recorded in a computer, it cannot be a ground for
holding that the confessional statement was not voluntary.
Þ As DCP has given a certificate in typing when the requirement is that
certificate has to be “under his own hand” that is urged to be illegal. It would be
too technical to discard the confessional statement or doubt its authenticity on that
score. This is merely a procedural requirement. The non-observance does not
cause any prejudice to the accused. It has not been shown as to how the accused
was prejudiced by the certificate having been typed.
ÞProcedure is handmade and not the mistress of law, intended to subserve and
facilitate the cause of justice and not to govern or obstruct it.
ÞSuch minor deficiency, if any, cannot be considered to be a fatal factor so far as
prosecution case is concerned.
Þ It could not be shown as to why the officials would falsely implicate the
accused. There is a statutory presumption under section 114 of the Evidence Act
that judicial and official acts have been regularly performed. The accepted
meaning of section 114(e) is that when an official act is proved to have been done,
it will be presumed to have been regularly done. The presumption that a person
acts honestly applies as much in favour of a police officer as of other persons, and
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it is not judicial approach to distrust and suspect him without good grounds
therefor. Such an attitude can do neither credit to the magistracy nor good to the
public. It can only run down the prestige of police administration.
Þ Where trustworthy evidence establishing all links of circumstantial
evidence is available, the confession of a co-accused as to conspiracy even
without corroborative evidence can be taken into consideration.
Þ Justice cannot be made sterile on the plea that it is better to let hundred
guilty escape than punish an innocent. Letting guilty escape is not doing
justice according to law.
Þ Prosecution is not required to meet any and every hypothesis put forward
by the accused.
Þ Proof beyound reasonable doubt is a guideline, not a fetish.
Þ When considered in the aforesaid background, the plea that acquittal of coaccused
has rendered prosecution version brittle, has no substance.
Acquittal of co-accused was on the ground of non-corroboration. That
principle as indicated above has no application to accused himself.
Þ It has been pleaded that prosecution has failed to place any material to
show as to why accused would make a confessional statement
immediately on return to India. Acceptance of such a plea would
necessarily mean putting of an almost impossible burden on the
prosecution to show something which is within exclusive knowledge of
the accused. It can be equated with requiring the prosecution to show
motive for a crime. One cannot normally see into the mind of another.
What is the emotion which impels another to do a particular act is not
expected to be known by another. It is quite possible that said impelling
factors would remain undiscoverable.
Þ When the collective conscience of the community is so shocked, that it will
expect the holders of the judicial power centre to inflict death penalty
irrespective of their personal opinion as regards desirability or otherwise
of retaining death penalty, same can be awarded.
Þ As the factual scenario of the present case shows, at least nine persons
died, several persons were injured, a number of vehicles caught fire and
were destroyed on account of the perpetrated acts. The dastardly acts were
diabolic in conception and cruel in execution. The ‘terrorists’ who are
sometimes described as “death merchants” have no respect for human life.
Innocent persons lose their lives because of mindless killing by them. Any
compassion for such persons would frustrate the purpose of enactment of
TADA, and would amount to misplaced and unwanted sympathy. Death
sentence is the most appropriate sentence in the case at hand and learned
trial judge has rightly awarded it.
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COMMENTS AGAINST THE MAJORITY JUDGMENT
The present case is one of many cases in which the expression “confession’ has
been mis-interpreted and re-defined to upheld the conviction of accused.
In Indian criminal law, confession made to a police officer is not admissible as
evidence, because it is presumed that the police might have extorted such
confession by threat or torturing the suspect and fabricating record. But this
presumption does not apply in cases tried under Terrorist and Disruptive
Activities Act,1987(TADA) which was promulgated in India on September 3, 1987
and it lapsed in May, 1995. Section 15 of the TADA states: “Notwithstanding
anything in the Code or in the Indian Evidence Act, a confession made by a person
before a police officer not lower in rank than an Superintendent of Police and
recorded by such police officer either in writing or on any mechanical device like
cassettes, tapes or sound tracks from out of which sounds or images can be
reproduced, shall be admissible in the trial of such person or co-accused, abettor
or conspirator for an offence under this Act or rules made thereunder, provided
that co-accused, abettor or conspirator is charged and tried in the same case
together with the accused.”
In the case of Devenderpal Singh Bhullar, he allegedly made the confession(see
Annexure –I) on January 19, 1995 and retracted on April 19, 1995. The trial court
and the supreme court held it to be voluntarily and truthfully made by the
accused.
A confession is an admission of guilt. It is voluntary if it is made in a state of
remorse and repentance and can therefore be assumed to be essentially true. In a
plethora of judgments, the supreme court has held that even a retracted confession
only needs to be tested in general and not in material particulars,i.e. not in those
specifics that link the accused to the crime. But on the other hand, a confession
made under duress and torture is no confession at all, because in order to stop
physical pain any ordinary person could confess to anything, however damning to
oneself.
The apex court committed a gross error when it was overpowered by emotions
and discussed the impact of terrorism and certain acts of terrorism before going
into the merits of the case. Whether the criminal act was committed with an
intention to strike terror in the people or section of people, is the primary question
needed to answer before terming a particular act as “terrorist act”. But the apex
court painted its own picture of a ‘terrorist’ and saw the accused with coloured
eyes. Earlier to this case, it was repeatedly held that the crucial postulate for
judging whether the offence is a terrorist act falling under TADA or not is whether
Lawyers for Human Rights International: Case Study of Davinderpal Singh Bhullar 9 of 12
it was done with the intent to overawe the government as by law established or to
strike terror in the people. The fall out of the intended activity is to be one that it
travels beyond the capacity of the ordinary law enforcement agencies to tackle it
under the ordinary penal law. In the instant case, the act of bomb blast was a
simple criminal act to kill a particular target(M.S.Bitta) and there was no claim by
the accused or his organisation that it was intended to strike terror in the mind of
the people. There was no eye-witness to the crime. Even the co-accused Daya
Singh Lahoria, who faced trial in the TADA case alongwith Mr.Bhullar was held
not guilty, because there was no corroborative evidence to the alleged confession
made by Mr.Bhullar. Still, the said confession was held admissible against
Mr.Bhullar whereas it was rejected against Daya Singh Lahoria. It is really a
strange preposition of law that a particular document is given two different
meanings by the court. It speaks volume of the biased view taken by the apex
court.
It would be proper to cite few reasons that made this case a rare one. First, there
was no eye-witness to the commission of crime by the accused. The case is solely
based on circumstantial evidence. Second, the confessional statement allegedly
given by Mr.Bhullar wherein he had disclosed the role played by each person in
the crime, was not held to be admissible against Daya Singh Lahoria, the coaccused
who was tried together with Mr.Bhullar, but the same confessional
statement was held admissible against Mr.Bhullar himself, even though he
retracted from that statement later on. Third, even if Mr.Bhullar is to be held guilty
under TADA and other sections of Indian Penal code, he does not deserve the
extreme punishment of death, but life imprisonment, in the absence of any motive
or intention to create terror in the minds of people. The self created description of
“rarest of rare” by the apex court has been wrongly stretched to bring the present
case within its purview, probably for the reason that the accused belongs to a
minority community which has a long history of patriotism and bravery. Fourthly,
the apex court has itself diverted from the earlier law settled by plethora of
judicial pronouncements, only to bring this case within the purview of “rarest of
rare” case for awarding capital punishment. Further, on one hand, the apex court
discussed the conventions and protocols of international law laid down by the
United Nations regarding terrorism and combating the menace, but with the same
breadth it became wholly oblivious of the fact that 108 member states of United
Nations have decided to abolish death penalty in law or practise in their country,
but by awarding death sentence to Mr. Bhullar, the court has shown utter
disregard to the international pressure for abolition of death penalty. It is indeed
painful that a crime behind which there was no clear motive nor corroborative
evidence to connect the accused with the crime, except a ‘defective confession’, has
been termed as rarest of rare case, which is ordinarily awarded in case of the
murder being committed in a gruesome and inhuman manner. The exceptional
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circumstances in which death penalty may be awarded can be classified into five
categories; manner in which the murder was committed; the motive which evinces
depravity and meanness;anti-social or socially abhorrent nature of the
crime;magnitude of the crime; personality of the victim of murder. In the case of
Mr. Bhullar, the manner in which murder was committed is not gruesome, nor the
motive is clear, the nature of crime is also not very serious and the personality of
the target i.e. Mr.Bitta was a politician and not a minor or female.
LEGAL VIEW AGAINST CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
Indian Constitution protects the right to life enshrined in Article 21, but for long
the death penalty is being awarded by the law courts wholly oblivious of the
trauma and mental torture every awardee undergoes till he is executed. Even
Section 302 of Indian Penal Code provides for punishment upto death to the
convict. In 1999 the Union government proposed for extending the death penalty
for the crime of rape---a proposal that drew country wide criticism. Although the
Supreme Court of India has held on many occasions that death penalty can only
be awarded in the “rarest of rare cases”, yet the number of persons being brought
in this category is indeed depressing. The apex court falling prey to its inhuman
tendencies have, in many cases, extended the limitation of “rarest of rare case”
and awarded the most inhuman punishment of death penalty even to such cases
where only one political leader was killed, but took a lenient view in cases where
many persons of a particular religious community were burnt alive in riots case
and commuted the death sentence to that of life imprisonment.
On the one hand, we worship the father of the nation, Mahatama Gandhi for his
principle of ahimsa, but on the other hand, have simply forgotten that he gave us
the golden rule of humanity, “Hate the sin, not the sinner !” When we hear about a
murderer, rarely do we understand what drove him to murder; more often we
wish to kill him. The feeling toward a murderer, which drives us to champion
execution, is identical to the wish for revenge the murderer feels for what he
believes to be the horrendous injustice in his life. We feel as murderous towards
him as he do toward those he had killed. This makes a murderer, if he is
imprisoned, even more murderous. Just as the murderer’s murder accomplishes
nothing, so too the death penalty has not in any way succeeded in preventing
crime.
If we have to define the curse of death penalty, in plain words, it is a murder by
the State. It certainly adds judicial murders to social murders. No Law or custom,
for that matter can justify the uncivilized rule---Blood for Blood ! Any country
which still carry out such punishment are condemned as medieval. If a premeditated,
planned murder shocks us for its cold-blooded cruelty, because of its
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intentional taking awy of someone’s life which can never be given back, Is not
judicial execution more shocking—since it is the most pre-meditated, planned and
cold blooded taking of life than can ever be ? Any Law or judicial pronouncement
which justifies the awarding of death sentence must and should be condemned
and society’s role in opposing such act takes the center stage. Each member of the
intelligensia must come forward and express their concern that death penalty is
not only contrary to justice, but also contrary to the law as well. It needs to be
borne in mind that in one case the Supreme Court says that a sentence of death
should not be given as a rule but only in exceptional cases. But in another case, it
does not feel hesitant to treat any case as an exceptional case, without applying its
mind toward the human psychology, his feelings and emotions. In the case of
Kehar Singh and Satwant Singh, the alleged assassin of the former Prime Minister
Indira Gandhi, the Supreme Court became a party to the political vendetta or
social hysteria and saw the two accused as enemy of the deceased leader of the
country and without any whims or reason ordered them to be hanged till death !
Many in India feel that Kehar Singh, and Satwant Singh were wrongly convicted
and hanged. A day may come when the Supreme Court too regrets its
confirmation of Kehar Singh’s death sentence. But can it then give back Kehar
Singh his life ? Why then persist with this pretence of infallibility which is
assumed by the courts when they sentence people to death ? Be it as it may, but
why did they decide to distinguish the same crime if committed by Kishori, the
person who burnt alive four members of a Sikh family in the anti-sikh riots in
New Delhi, and commuted his death sentence to that of life imprisonment. Was
the life of those four sikhs less valuable than that of Indira Gandhi ? If the
dastardly act of burning alive four innocent people can be brought out of the
category of “rarest of rare case” as they call it, Why can’t the apex court take such
a view in all cases of murder ? A sane penal system must look at these conditions
rather than to increase the weight of punishment to reduce the incidence of crime.
The policy adopted by the Law courts in the country have brutalise the judicial
system solving the problem of crime.
One thing we all must bear in mind that no punishment can act as a deterrent for
the criminal. With the passage of time, it has been shown that the deterrent theory
is not only outdated but without basis in a civilized society like ours. Had the
punishment of death a deterrent, then the number of murders and serious crimes
ought to have come down. Yet such number have not come down. To the contrary
it is on the rise. Further, if justice means redressal of a wrong and not revenge, can
the taking of a life be the answer for taking another’s life ? Deterrence also
means,”setting an example” so that others will not repeat the same crime. Is that
ethically justifiable ? If ‘A’ has committed a crime, he must be punished for that
crime. But is it permissible to punish ‘X’ so as to set an example that will deter
“Y” or “Z” from committing a similar crime in the future ? How can justice hold
Lawyers for Human Rights International: Case Study of Davinderpal Singh Bhullar 12 of 12
me responsible for what others may choose to do tomorrow ? Thus, the deterrence
function of death penalty is surely not an argument in its favor. In fact, it is wholly
unjust to regard a criminal as a born inhuman. The propounders of reformist
theory have a solid argument. It is possible that by keeping a person alive and his
conscience haunting him every minute of the wrong done by him, he can be cured
and his criminal state of mind is reformed enabling him to become a law-abiding
citizen and lead a normal life. But killing a human being in a most gruesome
fashion in public gaze, lower our eyes in shame, every time a human being is
hanged. To think otherwise, is only to brutalize the system of justice, which
should be humane and never brutal.
To conclude, I must say that we Indians love to regard ourselves as the most
civilized country in the world in terms of humane and spiritual values. Can then
we continue to hang people in the name of justice when nearly a quarter of the
world has already stopped doing so ? So, for the sake of civilization, we all must
strive for doing away of death penalty from the Statute books, leaving life
imprisonment as the maximum punishment for any crime. Let KARUNA always
prevail upon every Judge while awarding sentence to the accused.

UK Sikhs campaign to save activist Bhullar from the noose
London, Jan 15 (ANI): An international campaign has been launched to save Sikh activist Davinderpal Singh Bhullar from the gallows. It began in London on Tuesday, with protest demonstrations by British Sikhs, and will now spread to Europe, America, Australia and the Far East, in an attempt to get governments to intercede with the Indian authorities on behalf of the condemned man.

Bhullar, a Khalistan activist in the eighties, sought asylum in Germany in 1994. But before his appeal could be approved (which it eventually was), he was deported to India where he was accused of conspiracy to murder Congress politician Maninder Singh Bitta in 1993. He was convicted in 2001, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction by a two-to-one majority in April 2002 and the death sentence was confirmed last month.

Those campaigning on his behalf claim that he is innocent and that the conviction was based on a confession made to a police officer under torture. They note that not one of 133 witnesses called at his trial identified him. In particular they point out that the presiding judge at the Supreme Court, Justice M.B. Shah, acquitted Bhullar, saying that the conspiracy charge fell flat because none of the accused named in the confessional statement had been convicted or tried. They claim that this is the first time that the Indian Supreme Court has upheld a death sentence on a split judgment.

Tuesday's protest in London consisted of demonstrations by Sikhs carrying banners and placards outside the German embassy and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The aim is to persuade member-governments of the European Union, where capital punishment is banned, to put diplomatic pressure on the Indian government to commute the death sentence.

Demonstration leaders were received by the German ambassador, who is said to have welcomed the protest because it was against the death penalty. He is quoted as saying: "The German government does not believe in capital punishment. We have a good relationship with India and we will make this stand very clearly to the Indian authorities. We share your view that the death penalty is a violation of one of the most elementary human rights."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has told the Sikh leaders that it would decide on what action to take when Bhullar's lawyers had decided on their next move. A meeting with Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien is expected at that stage. Sikh protesters at the FCO were joined by politicians from all the main parliamentary parties.

The campaign will now move to 25 targeted countries, with protests at the German embassy and the foreign office in each capital, and to the European Union headquarters in Brussels and the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The London based human rights group, Amnesty International, is also in touch with campaign organisers to discuss its approach. It is intended that the campaign will finally reach India.

Several UK Sikh organisations have combined to launch the campaign, co-ordinated by the Sikh Secretariat, a body whose main function is to lobby the government on matters concerning the interests of British Sikhs. It claims to have no political agenda, although a senior member told ANI that it believed that Sikhs have the right to press for autonomy in Punjab. (ANI)

EARLY DAY MOTION 631 - DEATH PENALTY IN INDIA
That this House notes with dismay the death sentence passed in India on Professor Davinderpal Singh Bhullar, who the German Appeal Court has subsequently declared should not have been deported from Germany; further notes that the conviction is based on a confession which the condemned has retracted, as he says it was obtained after torture in India; and asks the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs promptly to communicate to the President of India the grave concern felt in the United Kingdom on this issue and to urge the President both to exercise clemency by commuting the sentence in this case and to demonstrate India's commitment to human rights by abolishing the death penalty.