Monday, 30th October 2017

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My first night at the Supreme Court

On any given day, I cover the 18km from my home to the Supreme Court in 1 hour and 15 minutes and reach the premises by 10am, after which parking will be a problem.

By R. Balaji
  • Published 31.07.15

New Delhi, July 30: On any given day, I cover the 18km from my home to the Supreme Court in 1 hour and 15 minutes and reach the premises by 10am, after which parking will be a problem.

Yesterday, I did so in 40 minutes flat.

Yesterday was not any given day - not when it was 10 POST MERIDIAN.

That was the time I got an alert that a group of lawyers is mounting one last run to try and save Yakub Memon.

I then found myself jumping into the car and driving up to the Supreme Court at 10.40pm, several hours after spending the day in the same court and reporting on how Memon's petition had been rejected.

Between dusk and night, the government had decided to recommend to the President to reject Memon's mercy petition. I did not know it then but around the same time I was returning to the court at night, news had broken that the President had endorsed the government's advice and rejected the mercy petition.

Memon's legal team was about to make a fresh appeal to the Supreme Court, saying that rules require him to be given a window of 7-14 days between the rejection of the mercy petition and execution. The lawyers also wanted to tell the court that a formal order announcing the rejection had not been issued.

The lawyers went with the petition to the Supreme Court registry. A night-duty official received it and informed the office-cum-residence of the Chief Justice of India, H.L. Dattu, on Krishna Menon Marg, around 4km from the court.

I then drove to the Chief Justice's residence and placed myself along with other journalists and television crew. Calls every 10 minutes failed to elicit any information other than "the Hon'ble CJI is still reading the files".

This went on for quite sometime, during which I was peppered with calls from the newspaper office in Calcutta. The printing machines were on hold but time was running out.

Around 1.30am, it was time for breaking news: the CJI had referred the matter to Justice Dipak Misra for constituting the bench along Justices P.C. Pant and Amitava Roy. The three judges had earlier in the day cleared Memon's execution.

Then popped up another question: where will the hearing be held?

One assumption was it would be either at the home of Justice Misra or that of the CJI. We recalled that last year in September the then CJI had heard at his residence at 1am a plea to stay the execution of Surinder Kohli, convicted of brutalising and murdering 19 children and women in Nithari. Kohli's execution, which was to take place in seven hours, was stayed.

Unsure of the venue, I drove between the homes of the CJI and Justice Misra's at least three times.

Around 1.45am, word spread that the hearing would be held in the Supreme Court from 2.30am - the first time the highest court of the land would be sitting so late into the night (or so close to dawn).

As I reached the Supreme Court again by 2.15am, it was illuminated and security personnel had taken position. I waited near Court No. 4, where the hearing would be held.

The wait continued till 3am. Soon after, the three judges arrived, followed by attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi. Memon's battery of lawyers, led by senior lawyer Anand Grover and accompanied by human rights lawyers Prashant Bhushan, Vrinda Grover and Nitya Ramakrishnan were already there.

The lawyers and the judges were in their usual black robes.

At 3.20am, the bench commenced the hearing. Grover argued for 45 minutes. The main points: the President had acted in haste, Memon was suffering from schizophrenia and the family should be given at least 14 days to prepare for the execution.

Rohatgi wound up his arguments in 15 minutes at 4.20am, contending that it would be a "travesty of justice" if the petitioner was allowed to "abuse the process of law" by repeatedly filing mercy petitions before the President.

Justice Misra, heading the bench, dictated the order for 35 minutes.

At 4.56am, Justice Misra pronounced the decision: "Stay of death warrant would be a travesty of justice. The plea is dismissed."

It meant Yakub Memon had stepped into the last 2 hours and four minutes of his life.

(The writer is the legal correspondent of The Telegraph. From the Supreme Court on Thursday, his despatches till 3am made it to the final edition in Calcutta)