Nirbhaya case: SC confirms death sentence, but no warrant for now

A view of the Supreme Court | Photo: PTI

A death warrant for hanging the four convicts in the Nirbhaya case will not be issued by a city court for now as it gave a week's time on Wednesday to know whether they are filing mercy petitions, hours after the Supreme Court dismissed the last review plea against the capital punishment.

As Additional Sessions judge Satish Kumar Arora adjourned till January 7 the hearing on applications by Nirbhaya's parents and the Delhi government for issuing the death warrant, the girl's mother broke down in the court and asked where are the rights of the victim.

"The court can issue death warrant. Nothing prevents the court from issuing death warrants," the lawyers for the parents and the Delhi government told the court, maintaining that the convicts were resorting to delaying tactics.

Nirbhaya's mother again fought back tears during a brief media interaction outside the Patiala House court complex and demanded a speedy hanging.

"The convicts have been given one more chance. Why are their rights being considered? What about our rights?" she asked, adding, "There is no guarantee that a final judgement will be delivered on the next hearing as well."

Nirbhaya's parents watched the proceedings in the 2012 gang-rape and murder case both at the Supreme Court and the Patiala House complex.

Judge Arora directed Tihar jail authorities to seek a response within a week from the four death row convicts as to whether they are filing mercy pleas against their executions with the President of India.

After a 30-minute hearing, the judge informed the four convicts via video conference about Wednesday's proceedings.

With the apex court's verdict on the plea by Akshay Kumar Singh, 33, the review petitions of all the four convicts in the case stand dismissed by the top court.

The top court said it found "no error" in the main judgement requiring any review and "confirmed" the capital punishment awarded to Akshay, who was the cleaner of the bus in which the ghastly crime took place,

"In light of the aggravating circumstances and considering that the case falls within the category of 'rarest of rare cases', the death penalty is confirmed."

In its 20-page judgement, the bench termed as "unfortunate" that grounds like "futility of awarding death sentence in 'Kalyug' where a person is no better than a dead body" and "level of pollution in Delhi-NCR is so great that life is short" were raised in the review plea.

"We find it unfortunate that such grounds have been raised in the matter as serious as the present case."

The convicts are yet to file curative petition in the apex court. This petition is the last legal recourse available to a convict and it is generally considered in-chamber.

On July 9 last year, the apex court dismissed the review pleas filed by the other three convicts -- Mukesh (30), Pawan Gupta (23) and Vinay Sharma (24), saying no grounds have been made out by them for review of its 2017 judgement upholding the death penalty. The Delhi High Court earlier confirmed the death penalty awarded by a trial court.

Consoling the sobbing mother of Nirbhaya, judge Arora said, "I have full sympathy with you. I know someone has died but there are their rights too. We are here to listen to you but are also bound by the law".

"Everywhere we go they (the convicts) say they have legal remedies. What do we have?" she told the court.

Nirbhaya's father told reporters they will not be satisfied till a death warrant is issued.

Convict Mukesh Kumar's lawyer said there is still a legal remedy of curative petition in the Supreme Court before filing a mercy petition to the President.

M L Sharma said he is examining the option of first filing a curative petition against the apex court order on July 9 last year by which it dismissed his review petition.

In the apex court, the three-judge bench, headed by Justice R Banumathi, said there are no grounds to review the 2017 verdict and the contentions raised by Akshay were already considered by the top court in the main judgement.

The bench, also comprising justices Ashok Bhushan and A S Bopanna, said the review petition is not "re-hearing of appeal over and over again" and the top court had already considered the mitigating and aggravating circumstances while upholding the death penalty.

As soon as the bench pronounced the verdict, advocate A P Singh, appearing for convict Akshay, sought three weeks time to file mercy petition before the President.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Delhi government, said one week is prescribed under the law for filing a mercy petition.

"We are not expressing our view in this regard. If as per the law any time is available to the petitioner, it is for the petitioner to avail the remedy of filing mercy petition within that stipulated time," the bench said.

The bench said the grounds raised by Akshay were almost identical to the grounds taken by the other three convicts in the case whose review pleas were rejected by the top court last year.

Singh then questioned the "hurry" with which Delhi government was moving to execute the Nirbhaya case convicts and said that death row convicts in other heinous crimes were not sought to be executed.

He then referred to air and water pollution in Delhi-NCR and said when age of citizens was already decreasing due to these factors then "why award death penalty".

Mehta opposed the review plea.

"There is specific evidence against the accused and all these were considered by the trial court, high court and the Supreme Court," he said, adding forensic and DNA evidence conclusively established Akshay's involvement in the heinous crime.

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