The Bombay High Court on Tuesday commuted to life imprisonment the death sentence against sisters Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit, who were sentenced by a Kolhapur court for the abduction of 14 children and the murder of five of them. them between 1990 and 1996.
A panel of Judges Nitin Jamdar and SV Kotwal commuted the death sentence against the two women after ruling that the Maharashtra government and the Center caused undue delay in carrying out their death sentence and violated their rights fundamentals.
The bench noted that government authorities, particularly the state government, acted casually, delayed the protocol despite the seriousness of the case, and failed to carry out the death sentence against the women despite the dismissal. of their requests for pardon by the president. Seven years ago.
Maharashtra authorities have delayed processing documents related to pardon applications filed by the convicted women and a slew of pardon applications filed by others on their behalf, he said.
State prison authorities had failed to follow protocol of informing convicts of the state of their pleas, state government officials had delayed sending relevant details to the Department of the Interior of the Union and the request for a hearing at the HC, the bench noted.
“Although the procedure for ruling on clemency petitions requires speed and timeliness, the state apparatus has shown indifference and laxity at every stage,” the court said.
The High Court noted in its judgment that the women’s conviction and death sentence for abducting 14 children and killing five of them was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2006.
Their request for a pardon was rejected by the President of India in 2014.
On the day their death sentence was due to be carried out in August 2014, the sisters lodged this plea in the High Court, asking that their death sentence be commuted due to undue delay in its execution and that they be released at once.
The High Court noted that the state made a statement about not carrying out the death sentence until the plea was finally heard, but did nothing to request circulation or schedule the next hearing, and the plea was finally heard by the court in September-October 2021.
“The position of the law that an unexplained delay in processing clemency applications may result in the commutation of the death sentence was already holding ground when petitioners’ clemency applications were made,” the bench said.
“Despite this legal position, solely due to the causal approach of the officers of the Respondent State (Maharashtra), the pleas for pardon were not decided for 7 years, 10 months and 15 days,” a- he declared.
The bench of judges Jamdar and Kotwal said the state apparatus was showing indifference.
“That it took more than seven years to move the files is unacceptable. The failure of the state’s duty is the reason for the commutation of the death penalty,” he added.
The Kolhapur Magistrate’s Court found the defendants guilty and sentenced them to death in 2001. The death sentence was upheld by the High Court in 2004 and then by the Supreme Court in 2006.
Convicts approached the governor with a pardon request in 2008, which was denied in 2012-13. After that, they approached the president with a request for a pardon, and the same was denied in 2014.
The sisters argued in the High Court that they had both suffered for over 25 years in detention and had therefore invoked their fundamental right under Section 21 through the present application.
The women urged the court to commute their death sentence to a life sentence and also order their immediate release considering the 25 years they have already served behind bars as the life sentence already served.
Lawyer Sandesh Patil, representing the Center, argued that the pardon request was sent to the President as soon as it was received from the state government and there was no delay.
The president had decided on the request within 10 months, he said.
The bench granted the women’s request in part by commuting their death sentence to life. However, he refused to release them, stating that the two women will have to serve their life sentences until the end of their natural life, considering that the crime they committed was “heinous”.
“The argument of the state (Government of Maharashtra) that they (the death sentence) should be executed today forgets that it is the failure of its officers that is the cause of the commutation of the death sentence life imprisonment,” he said.
The High Court further stated that while the state was meant to represent the interests of society in a criminal justice system, in the present case the state apparatus had not only violated the constitutional rights of the two convicts, but he had also ”failed the innocent victims of a heinous crime”.
Meanwhile, when contacted, Barrister Manik Mulik, who was a defense attorney in the case when it was tried in the Kolhapur Sessions Court, hailed the HC’s decision.
He said a proper decision was made by the HC as there was undue delay in carrying out the death sentence against the sisters.
Suhas Nadgauda, additional superintendent of police, Anti-Corruption Bureau, who was part of the state CID team that investigated the case, said the prosecution had built a watertight case.
A solid case was presented by the prosecution which led to the conviction of the two sisters and more than 150 witnesses were interviewed during the trial, he said.
”The whole affair unfolded during an investigation into a crime against Anjana Gavit (mother of the two sisters who died in 1997 before the start of the trial) at the Panchvati police station in Nashik in 1996. The abduction and the murder of children came to light during this investigation,” recalls the police officer.
He said as the scale of the crime spanned Nashik, Pune, Kolhapur and Thane, the case was transferred to the state CID, which then formed a special team to prove the kidnapping and murders.
”I was part of the Kolhapur team. Later, all the cases from these towns were consolidated and a joint indictment was filed in Kolhapur Sessions Court,” Nadgauda said.
He said renowned lawyer Ujjwal Nikam was the special prosecutor in charge of the case. “Kiran Shinde, Renuka’s husband, who was also arrested in the case. He had filed a motion with the trial court expressing his willingness to provide information about the crime.
”The court granted his request and he was appointed approver. He made statements in court explaining the roles of the three women (the two sisters and their mother) in the crime,’ the police officer said.
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)