Statutory Law: What Crimes Merit a Death Sentence Under Military Law in India?

Under Indian Army act 1950 death is one of the punishments that can be awarded by a Court Martial or a Summary General Court Martial. These military courts can award death under two sections namely section 69 which deals with offences under the Indian penal Code and carry a death sentence and Section 34 which deals with offences in relation to the enemy. These sentences are subject to confirmation by appropriate authority.

The Indian Army act 1950 Section 34 and section 69 lay down death as one of the punishments that can be warded by a court martial. The Army act further specifies that a sentence of death can only be awarded by a Court Martial with the following limitations as per section 132 of the act.

a)      In a General Court Martial (GCM) a death sentence can only be passed with the concurrence of 2/3rd of the members.

b)      In a Summary General Court Martial (SGCM) a death sentence can only be passed with the concurrence of all the members.

Court martial in India may award the sentence of death by hanging or shot to death (Army act Section 166).

 A court martial may award the sentence of death under Section 69 which covers all offences like Murder that are punishable by death under the Indian Penal code. In 2007 a SGCM sentenced to death a sepoy Satyam Kumar who had gunned down his superior Havaldar (Sergeant) Padma Rajan while on duty at Rehmbal in Kashmir under Northern Command.

The Army act 1950 and corresponding Air Force and Navy act lay down in Chapter VI section 34 that the sentence of death can be awarded to any person under the act for ‘Offences in Relation’ to the enemy. Section 34(a) to (l) lays down a wide range of crimes for which a death sentence can be passed. These include

a)      Aiding and abetting the  enemy

b)      Surrendering to the enemy or treacherously communicating or assisting or sending a flag of truce to the enemy.

c)      Cowardice in the face of the enemy like abandoning his arms in battle and deserting from the battle field.

Section 34 of the Army act is a very important section. It has been incorporated from the Indian Army act 1912 which at that time was a copy of the corresponding British military law. The British in their Unified military code have dropped the death sentence, but it remains part of Indian law. The US Uniform Military Code also has death as one of the punishments.

Offences under Section 34 cannot be tried summarily under army act section 80, 83 or 84 and convening a court martial is mandatory. A death sentence is subject to review and conformation, but cannot be challenged in a civil court.

In all offences under section 34 a Summary of Evidence is a mandatory requirement.

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Sharla Smith
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Roberta Baxter
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