Two sisters from Kolhapur whose mercy petitions against capital punishment were rejected by the President recently, on Tuesday moved the Bombay High Court praying their death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment.
The sisters–Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit–have, in their petition, contended that the President had taken more than five years to decide their mercy petitions when such a plea should have been disposed of within three months. On this ground alone, their death sentence may be commuted to life term, the duo prayed.
The petition, filed through their lawyer Sudeep Jaiswal, came up before Justices V M Kanade and PD Kode who posted it for hearing tomorrow.
The judges also asked the petitioner’s lawyer to show judgements which empower the high court to entertain a petition when the Supreme Court has confirmed death penalty and the President has rejected the mercy petition.
Before posting the petition for hearing tomorrow, the judges sought to know whether the execution of death sentence was to be carried out immediately.
Prosecutor S S Shinde sought time to seek instructions and after 30 minutes informed the court that the sentence would not be carried out immediately. The judges then decided to hear the matter tomorrow.
The two sisters were sentenced to death in 2001 for kidnapping 13 children and killing nine of them between 1990 and October 1996. They were assisted in the crime by their mother Anjana Gavit and Renuka’s husband Kiran Shinde. Anjana died in custody, while Kiran turned an approver.
They used to force the children to beg, commit petty thefts and pickpocketing. The children were starved to force them to commit crimes. After having sufficiently used the children in crime, they banged their head against walls and killed them.
The sisters, who could be the first women convicts to be sent to the gallows since independence, are currently lodged in Pune’s Yerwada prison and were recently informed about President’s decision to reject their mercy petitions. The 14-day buffer period before execution expired on August 16.
The petitioners contended that they have been living in constant fear of death for more than 13 years since the time the Bombay High Court confirmed their death sentence and the Supreme Court upheld it.
“The extra-ordinary and unjustified delay in execution of our death sentence has caused immense mental torture, emotional and physical agony to us,” the sisters said in their petition.
The petitioners have said since they have “suffered immensely”, in the “interest of justice and good conscience” their death sentence may be commuted to life imprisonment.
The sisters argued that several cases have been decided by the Supreme Court and various High Courts wherein for similar or lesser period of delay, the courts have commuted the sentence of death to life imprisonment.
They further prayed that they are women and were very young when the offences were committed. When the killings commenced, Renuka Shinde was 25-years-old and Seema Gavit was aged 19. At the time of the commission of offences, Renuka was also a mother of four children.
The sisters said their father had abandoned them and their mother during their childhood and were left to fend for themselves.
The petitioners said the reliability of the approver?s testimony was under doubt and was not fully accepted by the high court while handing down death sentence.
This was also accepted by the Supreme Court during the hearing of their Criminal Appeal. However, the high court relied upon the approver?s testimony to corroborate other circumstantial evidence.
The petitioners said they were leading a peaceful and orderly life in prison which showed they were concerned about social, physical and emotional well being of others and did not constitute a threat to society. The sisters said they have demonstrated that they were capable of leading a normal life.
They argued that their conduct in prison should be taken into account while considering their plea for commutation of death sentence.
The sisters submitted that the Supreme Court has held that unexplained delay in execution of the death sentence causes suffering, mental agony and trauma. This is violative of Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the constitution as it is cruel and therefore inconsistent with constitutional values, they said.