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Relief for 2 Delhi rapists

New Delhi, March 15: The Supreme Court today stayed till March 31 the execution of two of the four convicts placed on death row in the December 2012 gang rape case.

A special bench of Justices Ranjana Prakash Desai and Shiva Kirti Singh stayed the execution of Mukesh Singh, 29, and Pawan Gupta, 19, after counsel Manohar Lal Sharma, appearing for the duo, pleaded for a stay.

The court, which assembled at 5.45pm, said the special leave petition filed by the two convicts challenging their conviction could be placed before the Chief Justice of India for listing before an appropriate bench.

It also asked the court registry to send “forthwith” a copy of the stay order to prison authorities.

On March 13, Delhi High Court had confirmed the death penalty awarded to the four convicts — Vinay Sharma, 20, Akshay Thakur, 28, Mukesh and Pawan — by a trial court last September.

Although the apex court does not function on the weekend, Chief Justice P. Sathasivam constituted the special bench after Sharma requested a special hearing, pleading that the execution may be carried out during the Holi vacation if the order was not stayed.

Under Section 366 of the CrPC, a death sentence awarded by a sessions court has to be mandatorily confirmed by a high court. The sentence becomes final unless the convicts file an appeal before the Supreme Court.

Sharma’s apprehension that the convicts may be hanged during the Holi vacation is unfounded. The Supreme Court, in its January 21 judgment commuting the death penalty of 15 convicts, had clearly said that the government, before carrying out any execution, must give a month’s advance notice to their families.

While upholding the death sentence of the four rapists, Delhi High Court had ruled that if such a “revolting, gruesome and spine-chilling” crime did not qualify as “rarest of the rare”, possibly no other crime did.

An all-women bench had rejected the defence’s plea for leniency on the ground of the convicts’ low socio-economic status, clean past and young age and the possibility of their reform.

These “mitigating circumstances” fade into insignificance before the “aggravating circumstances” of a crime “unparalleled in the history of criminal jurisprudence”, the bench of Justices Reva Khetrapal and Pratibha Rani had said.

A strong message needs to be sent so that no one dares think of committing such “grotesque and ghastly” crimes, the judges said, “though we confess that we are not aware of any… crime of such dimensions” having been committed before.

One of the accused, Ram Singh, committed suicide in Tihar jail. Another juvenile accused has been sent to a reformatory home under the Juvenile Justice Act.