The Supreme Court on Thursday directed all States and concerned authorities to decide mercy pleas against death sentences expeditiously and without delay [State of Maharashtra vs Renuka and ors].
The same is necessary so that death row convicts do not take advantage of inordinate delays, a bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar opined.
“If even after the final conclusion even upto this Court, even, thereafter there is an inordinate delay in not deciding the mercy petition, the object and purpose of the death sentence would be frustrated. Therefore, as such, all efforts shall be made by the State Government and/or the concerned authorities to see that the mercy petitions are decided and disposed of at the earliest, so that even the accused can also know his fate and even justice is also done to the victim,” the Court explained.
Therefore, it asked the registry to communicate its order to the Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories.
“We observe and direct all the States/appropriate authorities before whom the mercy petitions are to be filed and/or who are required to decide the mercy petitions against the death sentence, such mercy petitions are decided at the earliest so that the benefit of delay in not deciding the mercy petitions is not accrued to the accused and the accused are not benefited by such an inordinate delay and the accused may not take the disadvantage of such inordinate delay,” the order said.
The observations came on an appeal against a January 2022 Bombay High Court judgment that had commuted the death sentence of half sisters Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit to life imprisonment, in the infamous case of abduction and murder of children between 1990 to 1996.
The two sisters were convicted in 2001 by the Sessions Court at Kolhapur for kidnapping thirteen children and murdering five of them. They were sentenced to death by the Sessions Court which was confirmed by the High Court in 2004 and thereafter by the Supreme Court in 2006.
The convicts approached the Governor in 2008 with mercy petition which came to be rejected in 2012-13.
After this, the convicts filed mercy plea before the President which was also rejected in 2014.
The convicts moved the High Court in 2014, seeking relief on grounds of the delay in deciding their mercy petitions. The State undertook not to execute them till the pendency of the case before the High Court, which eventually commuted their sentence.
Aggrieved, the State moved the Supreme Court which issued notice in the appeal on December 13, 2022.
In its order passed on April 13, the top court noted that the gravity of the offence can be a relevant consideration while commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment.
However, an inordinate delay in disposal of the mercy petitions can also be said to be a relevant consideration in this regard, the bench reasoned.
The appeals were, therefore, allowed in part and the life imprisonment (otherwise applicable upto 30 years with scope for remission) was modified to mean imprisonment till the end of natural life with no scope for premature release.
Senior Advocate Siddharth Dharmadhikari appeared for the State of Maharashtra. Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati appeared for the Union government.
Advocate Ankita Chaudhary was the Amicus Curiae on behalf of the accused.