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CIMA Gallary

2-day stay in hanging test case

- Breather for Veerappan aides, hearing tomorrow

New Delhi, Feb. 18: The Supreme Court has stayed till Wednesday the execution of four associates of bandit Veerappan, renewing focus on options after the denial of clemency and the fallout of delay in carrying out death sentences at a time a debate is raging on the hanging of Afzal Guru.

The four — Gnanprakasham, Simon Anthoniyappa, Meesekar Madaiah and Bilavendran — had been convicted of killing 22 people in a landmine blast.

The convicts had moved the Supreme Court seeking commutation of the death penalty to life imprisonment, citing a nine-year delay in deciding their mercy petitions by the President who had rejected the pleas on February 12.

A bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices Anil Dave and Vikramjit Sen said it would take up the matter for hearing on Wednesday to decide the issue or refer it another bench headed by Justice G.S. Singhvi. The Justice Singhvi bench had on April 19 reserved its verdict on whether the delay in execution of the death sentence would entail giving a convict the benefit of commutation to life imprisonment.

The court today sought the assistance of the attorney-general, and senior counsel Ram Jethmalani and T.R. Andhiarjujina. The court initially wanted to satisfy itself whether the convicts had filed the petitions and sought to know the locus standi of petitioner Shramik Narayan, an advocate in whose name the petition was filed.

Appearing for the petitioners, senior counsel Colin Gonzalves said the petition was filed in the name of the advocate as there was urgency owing to apprehension that the convicts would be hanged on Sunday itself.

Responding to queries from the bench, attorney-general G.E. Vahanvati said: “They have just given us a copy (petition). It is not even a proper petition. It is a very serious crime against the state. Twenty-two people have been killed by a landmine blast.”

The court said: “Not only crime we have to presume it is a rarest of rare case.”

At this stage, senior counsel Jethmalani cited purported apex court judgments and submitted that even delay of two years in deciding the mercy petitions would entail giving the convict commutation to life imprisonment.

But the bench said there was no such judgment and he was free to place before it any such verdict. Jethmalani’s response was not audible but he did not place any judgment.

Jethmalani was in the court to watch the proceedings as he is seeking similar relief to the killers of Rajiv Gandhi.

When the court asked whether a matter relating to death sentence can be reopened, Jethmalani submitted that “this is a matter where your lordships can ignore technicalities. It is a case of additional punishment on account of delay.”

The attorney-general opposed the plea, saying “it is not just a question of technicalities. They (counsel) have not even proper approval (vakalatnama) for the petition. We are stretching it (right to liberty) too far. This issue will cause serious problems”.

Then bench said it would hear the matter on Wednesday and there shall be no execution in the interlude.