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The stay on the execution of four associates of the slain forest brigand, Veerappan has been extended by the Supreme Court extended who were convicted of killing 22 persons in a landmine blast in 1993 and whose mercy petitions were rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee.

A Bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices Anil R. Dave and Vikramajit Sen extended the stay granted on a writ petition filed by advocate Shamik Narain and the convicts — Simon, Gnanaprakash, Madaiah and Bilavendran — seeking that their death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment.

Earlier, the Chief Justice told senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioners, that since another Bench, headed by Justice G.S. Singhvi, had reserved orders in the cases involving Bhullar and other death-row convicts, the three-member Bench would await its judgment before taking up the matter. In the alternative, it would have to send the petition to the same Bench. But being a three-judge Bench, the CJI said, “we would like to await… the two-judge Bench’s judgment.” The “proper course of action” would be to adjourn the matter until then. The case was adjourned for six weeks. The CJI-led Bench also issued notice to the Central and Karnataka governments.

In his submissions, Additional Solicitor-General Harin Raval said the Justice Singhvi-led Bench had called for records of all cases, in which mercy petitions were pending or disposed of, and reserved judgment on April 19, 2012.

In their petition, the convicts, who have been lodged in the Hindalga Central Jail in Belgaum since 2004, said they were now aged between 50 and 64. They filed mercy petitions on February 12, 2004, after the Supreme Court had upheld their conviction by a TADA court in Mysore in 2001 and enhanced the punishment to death. Their mercy petitions had been pending for nine years, during which period they suffered excruciating agony and uncertainty. “They underwent a lingering death under the shadow of the hangman’s noose, expecting to be executed at any moment. Along with them, their families experienced extreme anguish.”

The petitioners said: “They have become mentally and physically debilitated.”

On February 12 this year, they were informed by prison authorities that their mercy petitions were rejected by the President. “They have been in jail… since 14.7.2003, a large part of which was spent in single-cell confinement. In view of the undue delay in the execution of the death sentence and adjudication of the mercy petitions, they have approached this court for an appropriate writ prohibiting the execution of the sentence of death and for alteration of the sentence to… life imprisonment.”

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