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 gang-rape 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 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 where the convicts were given the opportunity to file mercy but only one preferred. There might be delay tactics. For how long will this go on? Had the 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 aga-inst the four convicts — Mukesh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Kumar Singh and Pawan Gupta. 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 about the development. Copies of the President’s order were also supplied to other convicts. At this, advocate Vrinda Grover, representing Mukesh, moved an application seeking certain documents from Tihar jail post mercy plea rejection. Advocate A.P. Singh, counsel representing Vinay, Akshay and Pawan, said: “These are not delaying tactics. Tihar (jail) is not giving us the documents.”
This is perhaps the first occasion when the President has decided so swiftly on any mercy petition. Generally, it takes months and in some cases years for the President to decide on the mercy petitions. Mr Kovind himself took more than nine months to act on the first mercy petition forwarded to him by the home ministry in July 2017. The petition related to a death 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 Mukh-erjee’s record of rejecting mercy petitions is unparalleled among his immediate predecessors and is second only to President R. Venkatraman, who rejected 45 mercy pleas.
Then president 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 act upon a single mercy petition sent to him, while Kalam disposed of a grand total of two pleas — commuting one and rejecting the other.
Under Article 72 of the Constitution, the President has the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence, including cases where the sentence is a sentence of death.
It was only a day after the AAP government recommended the 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 against 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.
In wake of rejection of Mukesh’s mercy petition by the President, the sessions court on Friday issued fresh death warrants against all the four convicts in the seven-year-old case. 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 had withdrawn later. Now, 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 of the convicts has already been rejected by the apex court.
The curative petition is the last legal resort available for redressal of grievances in court which 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 gang-raped and tortured on a moving bus before being dumped on a road in south Delhi. The woman, who came to be known as “Nirbhaya”, 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 at the time of the incident, was released after three years in a reform facility.
Nirbhaya’s mother Asha Devi expressed displeasure with the delay in the hanging, and said the convicts were getting what they wanted.
She has 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.
Asha Devi’s comments came amid a war of words between the AAP — which rules Delhi — and the BJP in power at the Centre over delays in the execution.
Denying the Delhi government’s role in delaying the hanging of the convicts, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the victim’s mother is being “misguided” and accused the BJP leaders Prakash Javadekar of politicising the matter.
Kejriwal, who is the AAP’s national convener, told reporters that whatever responsibilities the Delhi government had, it had finished them within a few hours.
“We sent the mercy petition within hours, so the Delhi government has no role in delaying the hanging of the convicts,” he said.
Union ministers Smriti Irani and Prakash Javadekar have blamed the AAP government in Delhi over the “delay” in the hanging of the four convicts....