"Despite stiff resistance from the victim's side, I am of the opinion that any condemned convict must not meet his Creator with a grievance in his bosom that the courts of the country have not acted fairly in granting him an opportunity to exhaust his legal remedies," the judge said.
"As a cumulative effect of the discussion, I am of the opinion that the death sentence cannot be executed pending the disposal of the mercy petition of the convict. It is hereby directed that the execution of death warrants against all the convicts, scheduled for March 3 at 6 AM, is deferred till further orders," the judge added.
The court passed the order on Pawan's plea seeking to stay the execution as he filed a mercy petition before the President on Monday.
"I have no hesitation in holding that mercy petition is an important constitutional legal principle 'Ubi jus ubi remedium', i.e., where there is a right, there is a remedy, I am of the opinion that the application is very much maintainable," the judge said in a 6-page order.
While it was reserving the order on Pawan's fresh plea to stay the death warrant for Tuesday morning, the court had rapped the convict's lawyer for acting so late in filing the curative and mercy pleas.
"You (counsel) are playing with fire. You should be cautious," the judge told the counsel. Pawan's curative plea was rejected by the Supreme Court earlier in the day.
The trial court had earlier in the day dismissed Pawan's and co-accused Akshay Kumar Singh's applications for staying their death warrants. However, Pawan's lawyer, A P Singh, said he has filed a mercy plea and execution ought to be stayed. The court, thereafter, asked him to come post lunch to argue his case.
In the post-lunch hearing, the court pulled up Singh saying, "You are playing with fire, you should be cautious" and while considering that hearing was scheduled for tomorrow morning, added "one wrong move by anybody, and you know the consequences".
Tihar jail authorities, during the hearing, said the ball is in the government's court after the filing of the mercy petition, and the judge has no role for now.
"The plea is not maintainable... it is for the government to decide whether to carry on the sentence or not. At this juncture the courts cannot intervene as such intervention would be merely based upon presumptions and conjectures," the jail authorities said.
They said the President will seek a status report from the jail on Pawan's mercy plea and when that happens, it will suo motu stay the execution. The authorities, however, informed the court that they had received the information about filing of the mercy petition.
The court had on February 17 ordered that the four convicts -- Mukesh Kumar Singh (32), Pawan Gupta (25), Vinay Sharma (26) and Akshay Kumar Singh (31) -- be hanged on March 3 after it issued fresh death warrants, observing that deferring the execution any further would be "sacrilegious" to the rights of the victim for expeditious justice.
It had directed that the four men be hanged by neck on March 3 at 6 am until they are dead. This was for the third time that the death warrants were issued by the court against them.
The court had noted that death warrants were earlier issued on January 7 and the execution was later deferred twice -- on January 17 and January 31.
"Now deferring it any further would be sacrilegious to the rights of the victim for expeditious justice," it had said.
The first date of execution, January 22, was postponed to February 1 by a January 17 court order. Then, the trial court on January 31, stayed, "till further orders" the execution of the four convicts as they had not exhausted all their legal remedies.
The court was hearing the applications by Nirbhaya's parents and the Delhi government, seeking fresh death warrants for the convicts after the Supreme Court granted liberty to the authorities to approach the trial court for issuance of fresh date for the execution of these convicts.
The 23-year-old physiotherapy intern, who came to be known as 'Nirbhaya' (fearless), was gang-raped and savagely assaulted on the night of December 16, 2012, in a moving bus in south Delhi. She died of her injuries a fortnight later in a Singapore hospital.