Calcutta, Jan. 28: Bishu Mondal raped a 14-year-old girl and slit her throat. The high court today commuted his death sentence because he was just 20 when he committed the crime.
Along with Ketab Sheikh, Bishu raped and killed Manowara Khatun of Mominpur in Domkol, Murshidabad, about 240 km from Calcutta, on March 2, 1997. The Behrampore additional district sessions judge sentenced Bishu to death last March.
Dhananjoy Chatterjee, a guard at a south Calcutta apartment, was hanged on August 14 last year for raping and killing a schoolgirl, Hetal Parekh. He was 27 when he committed the crime in 1990.
But age worked to Bishu's advantage and the death sentence was pulled down to a life term ' 14 years in jail. Ketab, a minor at the time of incident, is facing trial at the juvenile court and is in jail custody.
Bishu had moved the high court against the punishment. The division bench of Justices Aloke Kumar Basu and P.K. Deb today granted his prayer.
'The court, while commuting his sentence, has considered the age of the accused, Bishu Mondal. Moreover, the crime cannot be termed rarest of the rare,' the judges said.
Additional public prosecutor Ashimesh Goswami told the court: 'There was no eyewitness in the Hetal Parekh murder case. Dhananjoy was given the death sentence on the basis of circumstantial evidences only. Here, in case of Manowara Khatun's murder, there is an eyewitness.'
Goswami also claimed that the crime was 'rarest of rare' ' where a poor farm labourer's daughter is raped and killed by a 20-year-old in a paddy field in the presence of a boy of 12. Manowara had gone to cut grass there. Her uncle found the body soaked in blood.
Today's hearing generated considerable interest in the court for being the first since Dhananjoy's hanging where a rape and murder accused had pleaded that his death sentence be commuted.
Dhananjoy's execution had thrown up a debate over the relevance of capital punishment and the method of its execution. Rights organisations ' in India and abroad ' were vocal against the execution.
The National Law Commission has begun a rethink on the method of execution of the capital sentence and has sought opinions from high court judges across the country. The judges of Calcutta High Court, it is learnt, have opined that the method of execution of the capital sentence should be changed and lethal injections be introduced.
The high court today admitted a public interest litigation alleging nepotism, favouritism and irregular activities in the West Bengal Housing Board.
The court asked the board, the government and the city civic body to file affidavits and fixed the PIL for hearing after six weeks.