Why Afzal was hanged at 8 am, Kasab half an hour earlier
While many saw the early-morning executions of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru as an attempt by the government to keep them secret, the fact is that the hangings could not have been carried out at any other time. Executions are mandated to be carried out only in the early hours, in fact before day-break.
A model prison manual prepared by the Bureau of Police Research and Development — slightly-altered variations of which are used by almost all states — is very specific about the timing of the execution. "The execution shall take place early in the morning before it gets bright," it says, before adding that the "latest time of the day for different seasons will be in accordance with orders by the government".
The jail manuals of Punjab and Haryana, for example, spell out the different seasonal times. Between November and February, execution has to be carried out at 8 am. In March and April, and then again in September and October, the time is 7 am. Between May and August, a hanging is to be done at 6 am. These are the times followed in Delhi as well.
This being February, Afzal was hanged at 8 am. Kasab was hanged at 7.30 am, but that was in Pune, and Maharashtra has slightly different seasonal times.
The jail manuals also specify in detail how to treat a prisoner on death row and how to carry out their execution. No execution can be carried out on a public holiday. In fact, one view was to hang Afzal on January 26 this year — the recommendation having been sent to the President on January 23 — but the provisions of the jail manual ruled this out.
The government has been criticised for not having informed Afzal's family before the execution. The Home Ministry has clarified that Tihar jail officials sent letters by speed post to the family on February 7 and February 8, though it is clear these would not have reached them in such short time. The jail manuals incidentally make it mandatory to inform the family but are silent on how this is to be done and how many days in advance. The authorities are not bound either to verify if the information has reached the family.