December 16 rape-murder case: No hanging on Jan 22, High Court told

Pritam Pal Singh
2012 delhi gangrape case, delhi gangrape curative petitions, delhi rape curative petitions, december 16 gangrape, supreme court, indian express

The four convicts — Mukesh (31), Pawan Gupta (24), Vinay Sharma (25) and Akshay Kumar Singh (33) — in the December 2012 gangrape case. (File)

The four death row convicts in the December 16 gangrape and murder case will not be hanged on January 22, after the Delhi government told the Delhi High Court Wednesday that irrespective of a date and time fixed for the execution, it cannot take place as long as their mercy petition is pending before the President.

“This is mandated under the Delhi Prison Rules. If a mercy petition has been submitted by a prisoner sentenced to death, the execution cannot be exercised pending the order of the President of India,” a bench of Justice Manmohan and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal was told.

Standing Counsel (Criminal) Rahul Mehra and advocate Chaitanya Gosain, appearing for the Delhi government and Tihar Jail authorities, also said the “trial court can only fix the date of execution of prisoner sentenced to death if his mercy petition is rejected”.

“As per Rules, the execution cannot happen before 14 days from the date of issuance of the death warrant,” Mehra said, adding “it (hanging) will not happen on January 22 for sure. We will have to adhere to the Rules”.

On January 7, a trial court issued death warrants for 7 am on January 22 for the execution of death sentence awarded to convicts Mukesh (31), Pawan Gupta (24), Vinay Sharma (25) and Akshay Kumar Singh (33). They were convicted and sentenced to death in September 2013. This upheld by the High Court in March 2014 and by the Supreme Court in May 2017. The top court also dismissed their pleas seeking review of the confirmation order.

Expressing displeasure over the manner in which the matter is being delayed since May 2017 on the pretext of filing appeals, review, curative and now mercy petitons before different courts and authorities at different stages by each of the convicts, the bench said, “It is a strategic plan on how to prolong the matter.”

“How cleverly they (convicts) played with the state machinery. Clever litigants wait till death warrant is issued,” the bench remarked and declined to entertain convict Mukesh's plea seeking to set aside the trial court's January 7 order issuing death warrant against him and others for execution. The bench added there is “no error” in the order passed by the trial court, as till the date the order was passed, Mukesh had neither filed a curative nor a mercy petition.

Senior counsel Rebecca John and advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for Mukesh, said they would file an appropriate application before the trial court bringing the subsequent events to its attention.

The counsel for Mukesh then moved a trial court seeking postponement of the date of his execution on the ground that his mercy petition is pending with the President. The urgent plea was mentioned before Delhi court's Additional Sessions Judge Satish Kumar Arora, who issued notice to the state and the parents of the victim for Thursday.

Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia said the Delhi government had recommended rejecting the mercy plea filed by Mukesh and forwarded it to the L-G at “lightning speed”.

On Mehra's contention in High Court that none of the four convicts can be executed on January 22 unless Mukesh's mercy plea is decided, the bench said “put your house in order”. "Your house is in disarray... people will lose confidence in the system. Things are not moving in the right direction. The system is capable of being exploited and we see a stratagem to exploit the system, which is oblivious about it,” it said.

The bench also pulled up the prison authorities for the delay on their part in communicating to the convicts to move their mercy pleas after their appeals were dismissed by the apex court.