FPJ Legal: Bombay HC commutes death sentence of two sisters convicted for killing 9 children

The HC reduced their death sentence to life imprisonment due to delay by state govt in execution of the sentence. The court refused to release them forthwith saying “crime committed by them is heinous” and “the brutality with which the children were murdered is beyond words to condemn”

Urvi Mahajani | Updated on: Tuesday, January 18, 2022, 10:45 PM IST

Bombay HC | PTI
Bombay HC | PTI

The Bombay high court on Tuesday commuted the death sentence of two sisters, Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit – awarded capital punishment in 2001 for kidnapping 13 children and killing nine of them between 1990 and October 1996 – to life imprisonment due to inordinate delay in the execution of their sentence.

A division bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and Sarang Kotwal has however refused to release them forthwith, as prayed by them since they had already spent 25 years behind bars, observing that the “crime committed by them is heinous” and “the brutality with which the children were murdered is beyond words to condemn”.

The HC has clarified that their life imprisonment will be for the remainder of their lives. 

The sessions court had awarded them the death sentence in 2001, which was confirmed by the HC in 2004 and later upheld by the Supreme Court in 2006.

Due to the inordinate delay in the execution of their death sentence, the sisters filed a petition in the HC in 2014 through advocate Aniket Vagal. The HC had admitted the petition then and stayed their execution till final order.

Public Prosecutor Aruna Pai, appearing for the government, had argued: “Considering the gravity of the offence and the fact that they are beyond reformation, we support the judgment (of death sentence).”

Advocate Sandesh Patil, appearing for the Central government, had said that as soon as they received the papers from the Maharashtra government, it was forwarded to the President. “Within 10 months, the President had rejected the mercy petition. Hence, there has been no delay on their part,” argued Patil.

State government rapped

Although the government argued that the death sentence should prevail, “its officers have created a condition to defeat the arguments. The officers, more particularly of the state government, have laid the foundation for the law declared by the Supreme Court to apply”.

The government was aware that unexplained and gross delay in disposal of mercy petitions may result in commutation of the death sentence when the sisters’ mercy petitions were sent to the President. “Despite this legal position, wholly due to the casual approach of the officers of the Respondent-State, the mercy petitions were not decided for seven years, ten months and 15 days,” said the HC.

“The state machinery showed indifference and laxity at each stage of processing the files. That it took seven years only for the movement of files for such a grave issue is unacceptable when electronic communications were available to be used,” added the court. 

Noting that it was the “dereliction of officers” of government, that was the “cause for commuting the death sentence to that of life imprisonment”, the HC said: “The state represents the interest of the society in the criminal justice system. The Respondent-State not only has violated the constitutional rights of the petitioners but also failed the innocent victims of these heinous crimes.”

Refused to release

Clarifying that the life sentence would be for the remainder of their lives, the HC has left it to the government to decide on remission of sentence (early release of prisoner after spending few years in jail). However, the court has said that the government would keep in mind that the “crimes committed by the petitioners are heinous” and “the brutality shown by the petitioners in murdering innocent children is beyond words to condemn”.

Citing earlier HC and SC judgements upholding their death sentences, the court said that there was no material to show that the sisters “could be reformed or introduced in the society as responsible citizens” and that they were a “menace to the society”.

HC has said that the competent authority would consider the “gravity of the offences”, “adverse observations” of the HC and the SC -- that the sisters were “beyond being reformed” while considering remission of their sentence.

The court said that Article 21 (Right to life) of the Constitution of India extends to the stage of execution of the sentence as well and “prolonged delay in execution of sentence of death has a dehumanising effect”. And if this is caused due to circumstances beyond the petitioners’ control, then their death sentence deserves to be reduced, said the HC.

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Published on: Tuesday, January 18, 2022, 10:45 PM IST