New Delhi: With the Delhi government making a statement in the high court that the Nirbhaya case convicts cannot be hanged on January 22, questions galore over the delay caused by the Tihar Jail administration in ensuring the convicts exhaust all their remedies within a reasonable time-frame.
The Department of Tihar Prisons functions under the Delhi government and its additional inspector general reports directly to the government.
Rahul Mehra, standing counsel for the Arvind Kejriwal-government, made a statement in the Delhi High Court on Wednesday that hanging cannot take place on January 22, as fixed by the trial judge, since one of the convicts, Mukesh Singh, has now moved a mercy plea before the President.
According to Mehra, the Delhi government will approach the trial judge on January 21 with a request for issuance of a fresh death warrant since the execution on January 22 was not possible under the Delhi Jail Manual.
Meanwhile, the government has recommended rejecting the mercy plea filed by Singh and forwarded it to the lieutenant governor at "lightning speed". Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said Singh’s mercy petition will now be sent to the Union Home Ministry.
Although the high court asked the convict to go to the trial judge for a stay on the death warrant, the statement by the Delhi government lawyer makes the execution an uncertain affair also because the other three are yet to move their mercy plea.
At this point, this is also pertinent to recall that the Tihar jail administration had not issued any notice to the convicts since 2017 when their appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court, which upheld the death sentence saying the crime has shaken the collective conscience of the entire society. The top court had added the brutality made it look like a crime from another world.
Under the Jail Manual, a notice has to be given to a death row convict, asking him whether he has a review or curative or mercy petition pending, and in case, the convict needs some assistance.
However, the Tihar Jail authorities, in this case, did not issue any notice to the convicts after rejection of their appeal.
Three of the four convicts filed review petitions which was also trashed by the Supreme Court in July 2018. The jail administration, however, sat idle. It neither asked the other three about their curative or mercy plea nor did it seek to know from the fourth convict if he wanted reconsideration of the apex court judgment.
With punishment remaining only on a piece of paper of the judgment, Nirbhaya’s parents had to knock at the doors of the trial court in February 2019. The parents pleaded for issuance of a death warrant so that the punishment meted out can be executed.
Tihar Jail was still not up from its slumber. It was only in September 2019 when the trial judge sought a report from the authorities that the notice was issued and read out to all the convicts on October 29, 2019. The second notice was issued later in December on a directive by the trial court.
Sources in the jail say that while they had been verbally asking the convicts to exhaust their legal remedies as well as whether they would file mercy petitions, no notices were formally issued between May 2017 and October 2019.
While the Delhi government counsel pressed for a death warrant immediately before the trial court notwithstanding whether the convicts wanted to move mercy plea or not, on Wednesday, it said that the execution shall have to await a decision on the mercy plea first.
After the statement by Mehra before the high court, Nirbhaya’s mother told News18 that the buck must stop with the Delhi government as to why they did nothing since 2017 after the apex court rejected their appeal.
Questions arise if the Delhi government can escape its share of blame as the execution of Nirbhaya case convicts drag indefinitely.