The mercy petition was rejected by the President just a few hours after it was forwarded to him by the Union home ministry.
NEW DELHI: President Ram Nath Kovind on Friday rejected the mercy petition of Mukesh Kumar Singh, one of the four men facing the gallows in the 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case, following which a sessions court issued fresh death warrants for February 1, 6 am, against the four convicts. The mercy petition was rejected by the President just a few hours after it was forwarded to him by the Union home ministry.
While hearing Mukesh’s plea seeking postponement of the date of his execution scheduled for January 22, additional sessions judge Satish Kumar Arora said: “This case presents a scenario when convicts were given the opportunity to file mercy but only one preferred. These might be delay tactics. For how long will this go on? Had death warrant not been issued, the convicts would not have initiated using their legal remedies.”
The court also passed fresh directions on the application moved by Delhi’s Tihar jail authorities seeking issuance of fresh death warrants against the four convicts — Mukesh (32), Vinay Sharma (26), Akshay Kumar Singh (31) and Pawan Gupta (25). The jail authorities told the court that the convicts have not yet availed of all the remedies provided under the law.
Public prosecutor Irfan Ahmed also informed the court that Mukesh’s mercy plea was rejected by the President and that the convict has been duly informed. Copies of President’s order was also supplied to other convicts. At this, advocate Vrinda Grover, representing Mukesh, moved an application seeking certain documents from Tihar post mercy plea rejection.
Advocate A.P. Singh, the counsel representing Vinay, Akshay and Pawan, said: “It’s not delaying tactics. Tihar is not giving the documents.”
This is perhaps the first time ever that the President has taken a decision so quickly on a mercy petition. Generally it takes months, and in some cases years, for the President to take a call on mercy petitions.
Mr Kovind himself took more than nine months to decide on the first mercy petition put before him by the Home ministry in July 2017. Mr Kovind’s first mercy petition related to a death-row convict who had burned alive seven members of a family, including five children, over a case of buffalo theft.
Mr Kovind’s predecessor Pranab Mukherjee had cleared all the 32 mercy petitions pending before him during his five-year presidency. Of the 32 mercy petitions, he had rejected 28. Mr Mukherjee’s record of rejecting mercy petitions is unparalleled among his immediate predecessors and, in the history of the Indian republic, is second only to R. Venkatraman, who rejected 45 mercy pleas.
Former Presidents K.R. Narayanan and his successor Abdul Kalam (2002-2007) hold the distinction of sitting on mercy petitions, or what the law commission said in a 2015 report, putting the “brakes on the disposal of mercy petitions”. President Narayanan did not take a decision on any of the mercy petitions sent to him, while President Kalam disposed of a grand total of two pleas — commuting one, rejecting the other.
Under Article 370 of the Constitution, the President has the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respite or remission of punishment or to suspend, remit, commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence where the person has been sentenced to death.
It was only a day after the AAP government recommended rejection of Mukesh’s mercy petition that the Delhi Lieutenant-Governor on Thursday sent it to the Union home ministry, which swiftly forwarded it to the President. The mercy petition was against the sessions court’s death warrants for the execution of the four convicts on January 22 at 7 am in Tihar Jail. The sessions court had issued their death warrants on January 7.
Once the mercy petition is rejected by the President, the convict has to be given 14 days’ time to prepare for his execution. In this matter, all the four convicts have to be hanged together.
So far only Mukesh’s mercy plea has been rejected. Vinay too had moved a mercy petition, which he later withdrew. Vinay and other two convicts have the option of moving their mercy pleas before the President. Before filing the mercy pleas, the convicts can also file curative petitions before the Supreme Court. In this case, the curative petitions of two convicts have already been rejected by the apex court.
The curative petition is the last legal recourse available for redressal of grievances in court and is normally decided by a judge in-chamber. It is only in rare cases that such petitions are given an open-court hearing.
On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old medical student was gangraped and tortured on a moving bus before being dumped on a road in south Delhi. The woman, who came to be known as “Nirbhaya” (fearless), died on December 29 in a Singapore hospital.
Six men were arrested for the horrifying assault. A fifth accused — Ram Singh — allegedly committed suicide in Tihar jail during the trial and the sixth man, a few months short of 18 years of age at the time of the incident, was released after three years in a reform facility.
On Friday, Nirbhaya’s mother Asha Devi expressed displeasure with the delay in the hanging, and said the convicts were getting what they wanted. She appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi “with folded hands” to hang them on January 22, and broke down during an interview to a TV channel as she tore into political parties for using her daughter’s death for their own gain.