Execution in India As Per the Army, Navy and Air Force Act 1950
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Execution in India As Per the Army, Navy and Air Force Act 1950

The Army, Navy and Air Force Acts 1950, retain the provision of death as a punishment. The General Court martial may at its discretion award the death sentence either by hanging or shot to death i.e. firing squad. The sentence of death can be awarded for offences in relation to the enemy and offences under the Indian Penal Code.

The Indian Air Force act 1950 is modeled on the Royal Air Force act. It retains the death penalty as one of the punishments that can be awarded by a court martial. The Royal Air Force act was amended and replaced by the Armed Forces Act 2006. Even earlier the death penalty in British military law was abolished and the maximum punishment that can be awarded by a court martial is Imprisonment for life. In the US armed forces   death as a punishment   is retained under the Unified Military Code.

In India, the Air Force act 1950 and other military acts provide for execution of the death sentence. Chapter VI section 34 of the AF act 1950 provides for the award of the death sentence   for certain offences which are mentioned in section 34(a) to (o). These are offences in relation to the enemy. Section 37 of the same chapter also gives the power to the General Court Martial (GCM) to award the death sentence in case of Mutiny or related offences.

Section 163 of the AF act 1950 further provides for the form of the sentence of death. It states that GCM on conviction of an accused shall at its discretion award death either by hanging or by being ‘shot to death’.

 This is a very crucial section as it gives the GCM the discretion to award the death sentence and also decide the form of execution either by

a)      Hanging

b)      Shot to death.

The discretion to award death by hanging or firing squad is with the GCM and not the accused.  Unlike in the state of Utah  and Oklahoma in the USA, where the option to die either by lethal injection or firing squad  can be exercised by the  convict, in India no such option can be exercised by the accused.

 The sentence of ‘shot to death’ is only in military law in India and does not find mention in the Code of Criminal procedure 1973, but as it is mentioned in the AF act 1950, it remains a valid punishment in India. However no sentence of death will be executed until the findings are confirmed by the appropriate authority, which are the Chief of Air Staff and the Central Government.  The Army Act 1950 and the Navy Act 1950 also provide for similar provisions.

The sentence ‘shot to death’ has a military connotation. For that reason at the Nuremberg trials many of the German generals opted to be shot to death by a firing squad, than to suffer the ignominy of death by hanging.

 Till 2007 there was no judicial review of any punishment awarded by a court martial, once its sentence had been confirmed by the appropriate authority. This has changed after the government of India passed the Central Armed Forces Tribunal act in 2007. The tribunal is functional from 2008.  The tribunal has full powers to review any punishment including death awarded by a GCM.

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