The study, conducted by Amnesty International and People's Union for Civil Liberties (Tamil Nadu and Puducherry), points out that at least 140 people have been sentenced to death in 2006 and 2007.
According to the latest available official figures, there were 273 people on death row as of December 31, 2005, but this figure is likely to be considerably higher today.
''But the fate of these death row prisoners is ultimately a lottery,'' says the study, the first comprehensive analysis of around 700 Supreme Court judgements on death penalty cases over more than 50 years.
The study, ''Lethal Lottery: The Death Penalty in India, A study of Supreme Court judgments in death penalty cases 1950-2006'', alleges that the administration of death penalty in India has not been in the "rarest of rare cases" as claimed in the country.
''On the contrary, there is ample evidence to show that death penalty has been an arbitrary, imprecise and abusive means of dealing with defendants.'' In the Bachan Singh judgement of 1980, the Supreme Court had ruled that the death penalty should be used in the 'rarest of rare' cases. ''More than a quarter of a century later, it is clear that through the failure of the courts and the State authorities to apply consistently the procedures laid down by the lasw and by that judgement, the Court's strictures remain unfulfilled.'' It also alleges that there has been inconsistency in investigation, trial, sentencing and appeal stages in capital cases.
Dr V Suresh, President, PUCL (TN&Puducherry), said, ''While death penalty continues to be used in India, there remains a danger that it will be used disproportionately against ethnic minorities, the poor or other disadvantaged groups. There is only one way to ensure that such inequalities in the administration of justice do not occur: the complete abolition of the death penalty.'' Amnesty welcomed the current hiatus of executions in the country.
The relative lack of executions in the last decade -- one in 2004 -- illustrates that the people of India are willing to live without the death penalty.
''India stands at a crossroad. It can choose to join the global trend towards a moratorium on the death penalty, as adopted by the UN General Assembly last year. It will also then join 27 countries in the Asia-Pacific region which has abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.
''Or it can continue to hang death row inmates, when the judicial system that puts them there has been shown by this extensive research to be unfair,'' said Mukul Sharma, Amnesty International-India Director.
UNI/SKS BDP RN1902