Bombay High Court commuted the death sentence to two sisters who killed kids and said Mercy Petitions Not Decided For Over 7 Years

Share on:

The Bombay High Court today commuted the death sentences awarded to two sisters to life imprisonment. The duo was convicted for kidnapping 13 children, killing some of them, and using the others as cover to snatch purses and chains between 1990 and 1996.

The death sentences of the duo, Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit of Kolhapur, were confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2006. The state government supported granting the death sentences.

The HC bench of Justice Nitin Jamdar and Justice Sarang Kotwal which pronounced the judgment, however, declined the sisters’ plea for orders to release them as they have completed 25 years in prison.

The sisters were sentenced to death by a Kolhapur trial court in 2001, and the ruling was upheld by the HC in 2004. Subsequently, their appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2006 and their mercy petition was rejected by the president in 2014.

Advocate Aniket Vagal, who represented the duo in the HC, informed the division bench of justices Nitin Jamdar and Sarang Kotwal — which heard the sisters’ 2014 petition — that the two sisters had approached the HC against the inordinate delay on the part of the state to get the mercy petition decided by the president after the apex court had rejected their appeal.

As per procedure, once the SC confirms a death sentence, the convict may file a mercy petition before the president, seeking pardon. It is the state government’s responsibility to get a mercy petition heard and decided by the president.

The sisters' case rests on a 2014 three-judge bench's landmark verdict of the Supreme Court in Shatrughan Chauhan vs UoI. In this case, the SC issued guidelines relating to the death penalty and commuted death sentences of 15 convicts to life imprisonment.

The court ruled that inordinate delay by the President in deciding mercy petitions amounted to torture, was violative of the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution, and the gravity of the offence was irrelevant.

Advocate Sudeep Jaiswal, who originally represented the sisters, passed away in 2019, after which Advocate Aniket Vagal stepped in last year. Vagal argued that the eight-year delay in deciding their mercy petitions was a violation of their fundamental rights under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. The delay was "unfair, cruel and excessive," and it had caused "immense mental torture, emotional and physical agony to them." Therefore, the death sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment.

"They are living under the fear of death for over 20 years now," he argued.

Advocate Sandesh Patil, appearing for the Central Government, submitted that there was no delay on the Centre's or the President of India's part in deciding the mercy petitions. He said that soon after the Governor of Maharashtra rejected their mercy pleas in 2012 and 2013, the papers were forwarded to the President. "Within 10 months, the President rejected the mercy petitions," Patil argued.

The Bombay High Court today finally in its order said that, “Having considered the facts and circumstances in which the delay of seven years, 10 months and 15 days in the disposal of the mercy petitions has occurred, we find that it is entirely attributable to the officers of the respondent — governments, more particularly that of the state government.”