Bombay High Court
Bombay High Court

Mumbai: Castigating the Union and state governments for their failure to use digital modes of communication, the Bombay High Court on Monday commuted the death sentence of two men convicted for raping and killing a BPO employee in Pune in 2007. The court, instead, granted them life terms despite the President having rejected their mercy petition in 2017, on the grounds of ‘inordinate’ delay of over four years in executing the capital punishment. The convicts will now serve the remainder of their 35-year-sentence, having already been in jail for 12 years.

A bench of Justices Bhushan Dharmadhikari and Swapna Joshi granted a breather to Pradeep Kokade (30) and Purshottam Borate (37) after considering the delay on the part of both the governments in completing all the procedures for executing the death sentence. The duo was originally scheduled to be hanged on June 24. However, they moved the bench citing the delay of over four years in executing their sentence. They highlighted the fact that despite the judgement of the Sessions court in 2012 and its subsequent confirmation by the HC as well as the Supreme Court till 2015, the authorities failed to follow the procedures.

On the other hand, the authorities, including the ministry of home affairs, maintained they had exchanged several letters to follow procedure and forwarded the mercy petitions filed by the duo before the President as well as the Governor. The President had rejected the mercy petitions in June 2017. However, due to some ‘miscommunication’, the death warrant could only be obtained in May 2019. Taking note of all the letter work, the judges said, “Telegrams or express letters were used years ago, as these were the fastest mode of communication available then. Now it has to be email, fax or telephone or video-conferencing etc. Not resorting to these devices in the digital era would tantamount to deliberately delaying the exercise or derailing it. It would be an instance of avoidable delay.”

“When the protection accorded by Article 21 of the Constitution of India is at stake, the executive, court or the governor or President stand on the same pedestal,” Justice Dharmadhikari observed in the judgment. The bench further noted that in all the letters exchanged between the authorities, the words “most urgent” or “death penalty” are printed on the top. However, it appears that the matter was not given the attention it deserved, the court said. “Delay by any arm of the state would be against the fundamental right of the convict. Extra or additional punishment resulting from avoidable delay cannot be legalised because it is on account of undue time taken by the constitutional functionaries. Such additional punishment is unconstitutional in all circumstances and contingencies,” the judges said. The bench noted that from 2015 till date, only two years was consumed in deciding the mercy petitions (by the governor and President). But there is no explanation for the remaining three-year delay.

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