Mumbai: In a bizarre ruling, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court, said that since the convicts only used an axe and a blade and not any deadly weapon to murder four of a family, it was commuting the death sentences of three men to life imprisonment till natural death . The three men – a father and his sons – were convicted for killing four members of a family over a land dispute.

A bench of Justices Zaka Haq and Pushpa Ganediwala commuted the death sentences of Gajanan Mali, 56, Nandesh, 25, and Deepak, 20, who had murdered the two sons, daughter and brother of Akola resident Bhagwantrao Mali.

Both Gajanan and Bhagwantrao had been embroiled in a legal battle over a parcel of land, with both claiming ownership. However, a district court had passed orders in favor of Bhagwantrao. This enraged Gajanan and his sons, who barged into the former's house and killed his son and brother. They also killed Bhagwantrao's other son and daughter who were working on the disputed land at that time.

According to the prosecution, Gajanan and his sons killed Bhagwantrao's children and brother using an axe and a fodder-cutting blade.

The trio was convicted by a trial court, which handed over death sentence to them after categorising the offence to be a 'rarest of rare.' The convicts accordingly challenged their death sentence before Justice Haq's bench, which held that there was nothing 'uncommon' in the killings and that it was not the 'gravest' of murders.

“Undisputedly, the convicts are farmers and they earn their livelihood through agriculture. There is not a single crime registered against them,” noted Justice Haq's bench in its judgment.

“Evidently, except for the tools which are used for agricultural activities, they did not carry any other deadly weapon. It is also not the case of the prosecution that apart from the axe and fodder cutter blade, the convicts used any other deadly weapon for inflicting injuries on the deceased,” the order penned down by Justice Ganediwala reads.

The bench further considered the fact that after killing the four persons of Bhagwantrao's family, the convicts did not touch any other member of the family present in the house then. The judges also emphasised the different lifestyles of the families of both Bhagwantrao and Gajanan.

“Undisputedly, Bhagwantrao and his sons were residing at Akola and he was leading a retired life. Whereas Gajanan and his sons earned their livelihood through agriculture and we think, they may have felt dejected after losing the land dispute in court and they may have been provoked and then they dared to execute the killings,” Justice Ganediwala opined.

The bench, however, maintained that killing four members of a family at a time is a 'cruel and inhuman act.'

“However, in our clear opinion, this case does not fall under the rarest of rare category. To extinguish the convicts from this world is not the ultimate remedy. There is nothing uncommon in it except enormousness of the crime,” the bench ruled.

“We find the alternative punishment of life imprisonment with direction not to release them till their natural death would be just and proper,” the bench added.

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