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Bihar convicts’ pleas go missing

New Delhi, Feb. 20: Four convicts in the Bara massacre case are awaiting news on their mercy pleas that seem to have gone missing after 10 years of filing them with the President.

National Human Rights Commission today took cognisance of a complaint by rights organisation Asian Centre for Human Rights. It had written to the commission against the apparent loss of the mercy petitions of the four death row convicts.

It assumes significance in the light of the Supreme Court commuting the death sentences of three men convicted for killing Rajiv Gandhi to life. The top court said the Union government’s 11-year delay in deciding their mercy pleas was “inordinate” and “unreasonable”.

Activists of the Maoist Communist Centre had attacked the Bara village in Gaya district on the night of February 13, 1992. Thirty-five Bhumihars, a landed caste, were massacred. Four persons — Krishna Mochi, Nanhe Lal Mochi, Bir Kuer Paswan and Dharmendra Singh alias Dharu Singh — were convicted for the massacre.

On June 8, 2001, a Gaya sessions-cum-designated court under Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 had found them guilty and awarded them the death penalty. On April 15, 2002, the Supreme Court confirmed their death sentence.

According to rights organisation, officials of Bhagalpur Central Jail — where these convicts are being held — have claimed that all four had filed mercy petitions with the President of India on March 3, 2003. But, more than 10 years from filing their mercy pleas, the convicts are still awaiting news on their fate as the petitions seem to have gone missing.

Suhas Chakma, the Asian Centre for Human Rights director, said: “The ‘list of mercy petition cases since 1981’ we have received from the President of India through the Right to Information (RTI) Act on March 28, 2013, does not show the names of the four. The apparent loss of the mercy pleas of the four shows the utter callousness of the government of India in handling cases involving life and death. It is perverse and absolute abuse of power.”

The Bara massacre, one of the deadliest in the state’s history, was one of 90 such incidents carried out by Naxalites in Bihar between 1976 and 2001. Five years after the Bara massacre, 58 Dalits were murdered by the now-disbanded Ranvir Sena, an army of the upper-caste Bhumihars, in what has been considered by the courts as a retaliation of the 1992 incident.

According to the RTI reply received by the rights organisation from the President’s office, the President received 114 mercy petitions since 1981 till March 2013, six of them were from Bihar. While four of them were rejected, the death sentences of Prajeet Kumar Singh, who was convicted for killing three children in 1998, and Shobhit Chamar, a dacoit, were commuted to life.