The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the execution of four aides of notorious forest brigand Veerappan, facing capital punishment after the President rejected their mercy plea.
They were convicted in a case related to the killing of 22 policemen in a landmine blast near Palar, Karnataka, in 1993.
A three-judge bench presided by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir provided the reprieve and decided to hear their plea seeking commutation of the death sentence on the ground of inordinate delay in disposing of their mercy petition.
Veerappan’s aides — Simon, Madaiah, Bilavendra and his brother Gnanaprakash — were sentenced to capital punishment in 2004. Fixing the matter for hearing for Wednesday, the bench said it could not go into the merits of the case with regard to the sentence but could hear on the question relating to the delay in execution.
“Question of correctness of death sentence cannot be re-opened and it has to be presumed that the case fell under the rarest of rare category but we are on the principle as to what should happen when the execution has been delayed,” the court said.
Appearing for the convicts, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves submitted that the execution in their case should be stayed till the apex court’s judgments on similar pleas filed by death row convicts, Punjab terrorist D P S Bhullar and Mahendra Nath Dass from Assam, were delivered. Gonsalves also referred to the plea made by the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
Appearing for the Centre, Attorney General G E Vahanvati opposed Gonsalves’s argument saying that the four were convicted for killing of 22 police personnel by the apex court, and further that their mercy petition has already been decided by the President.
Gonsalves, however, shot back saying “inordinate delay has led to miscarriage of justice.”
Senior counsel T R Andhiarujina and Ram Jethmalani, who appeared as amicus curiae in the matters concerning Bhullar and Dass, supported the arguments advanced by Gonsalves. Andhiarujina said the judgment reserved by the apex court would deal with a larger question as mercy petitions were not decided years altogether. Jethmalani said the prolonged detention of death row convicts pending decision on their mercy pleas was additional punishment for them.
The bench nitially showed its reluctance to entertain the petition in the present form by calling it “not maintainable” as there was no valid authorisation from the convicts. But the court agreed after Gonsalves insisted that he would remove the defects in the petition.
“Liberty is given to the petitioner to amend the petition suitably. In the meantime, the execution of the death sentence on the four convicts concerned, shall remain stayed. The Superintendent of the Central Jail at Belgaum be informed accordingly,” the court said.