New Delhi: None of the Nirbhaya rape and murder convicts will be hanged on Saturday, a Delhi court has ruled, indefinitely postponing the execution of their death warrant after the inmates sought a stay on their hanging scheduled for 6 am on February 1.
No new date for the execution of the four death row inmates has been issued yet.
Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana earlier on Friday heard the arguments of Tihar Jail authorities and the convicts' lawyer. Challenging the application of three inmates seeing a stay on the execution, Tihar authorities had told the court that only one convict's mercy plea is pending and the others can be hanged.
The convicts' lawyer disagreed with the jail authorities and said rules dictate that when one convict's plea is pending, the others cannot be hanged.
While passing the order, Rana took note of the convicts' "dilatory tactics" but did not comment on them.
Mukesh Kumar Singh, 32, Pawan Gupta, 25, Vinay Kumar Sharma, 26, and Akshay Kumar, 31, who are lodged in Tihar jail, were ordered to be hanged on February 1 at 6 am.
With advocate AP Singh, the counsel for Pawan, Vinay and Akshay contending that their legal remedies were yet to be exhausted, the hanging date remains uncertain.
Only Mukesh as of now has exhausted all his legal remedies, including the clemency plea dismissed by President Ram Nath Kovind on January 17 and the appeal against the rejection was thrown out by the Supreme Court on January 29.
'They will never be hanged'
Reacting in anguish to the delay in the hanging, Nirbhaya's mother Asha Devi said she will continue her fight till the convicts are hanged.
Devi said her "hopes are dashed" but she will continue her fight till the convicts are hanged.
"These convicts have no right to live. We keep getting disappointed by the system. I will continue my fight till the convicts are hanged," she said.
This is for the second time that the execution of the death warrants has been deferred. The first order for execution of death sentence, issued on January 7 for January 22, was stayed on January 17. The second warrant, issued on January 17, for February 1 was stayed on Friday.
In the order, the judge noted that if an appeal or an application is made by only one convict, the execution of sentence shall be postponed in the case of co-convicts also.
"Without commenting upon the dilatory tactics adopted by the convicts, suffice it would be to state that seeking redressal of one's grievances through procedure established by law is the hallmark of any civilised society. The courts of this country cannot afford to adversely discriminate any convict, including death row convict, in pursuit of his legal remedies, by turning a Nelson's eye towards him."
"As a cumulative effect of the aforesaid discussion, I am of the considered opinion that the execution of warrants issued by this court vide order dates January 17, 2020 deserves to be postponed till further orders," the judge said.
The delay in the hanging prompted junior home minister G Kishan Reddy to say there must be a debate on how the convicts in heinous crimes continue to delay execution of death penalty by exploring the judicial process even after the Supreme Court upholds their conviction.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said it is sad that the convicts are "escaping death sentence" by using legal loopholes, stressing that there is an urgent need to amend the laws to ensure hanging in cases of rape within six months.
"It saddens me that the convicts in Nirbhaya case are escaping death sentence by using legal loopholes. They should be immediately hanged. We are in dire need to amend our law so that in cases of rape, hanging takes place within 6 months," he said in the tweet in Hindi.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, agreed to examine the Centre's plea for laying down victim and society-centric guidelines in heinous offence cases where death penalty has been awarded.
The Centre on January 22 moved an application contending that the prevalent guidelines framed by the apex court are only accused and convict-centric.
It observed that heinous crime convicts are taking the "judicial process for a ride" and urged the court for fixing a seven-day deadline for execution of condemned prisoners after issuance of black warrant, amid the delay in the hanging of the Nirbhaya case convicts.
The advocate representing Nirbhaya's parents told the court that for last one year the convicts have been asked repeatedly to avail their legal remedies but they were avoiding. "They are using delay tactic one by one. The convicts have been misused entire system," the advocate said.
During the argument, which lasted for over two hours, advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for Mukesh, too sought stay of execution.
She told the court on Friday, "If the mercy plea of Vinay allowed, it will open a chance for me to file another mercy plea. In Yakub Memon's case there were talks of filing second mercy plea. It's wrong to say that there's no legal remedy left."
The curative petitions of Vinay and Akshay have been rejected by the apex court. Vinay's mercy plea before the President is pending while Akshay has not filed a mercy plea yet. Pawan is the only one yet to file a curative plea.
Convicts have the option of moving a mercy petition before the President only after the apex court dismisses their curative plea.
(With inputs from PTI)