Frantic efforts are afoot to stay the hanging of four aides of slain forest brigand Veerappan after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected their mercy pleas earlier this week setting the stage for their hanging.
Prabhu Ramasubramanian, Supreme Court advocate and member of the team of lawyers who are representing them, said "They were informed of the rejection of their mercy plea on February 11. We will approach the Karnataka High Court seeking a stay and a commutation of death sentence based on the fact that the mercy petition was kept pending for almost nine years."
"Approaching and the intervention of the court at this stage on the ground of delay in taking the decision on mercy petition is not the general procedure but the democratic rights of these convicts," he said.
Once the mercy plea is rejected, the execution is scheduled within 14 days.
“We will file the petition in the next two-three days,” Ramasubramanian said.
Among the team of lawyers is well-known anti-death penalty campaigner Yug Chaudhry who is expected to meet the four death row convicts this weekend at Hindalaga Central Prison in Belgaum in Karnataka, where they are lodged. Chaudhry, a Bombay High Court lawyer, also represents Murugan, who is on death row for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Gnanaprakasham, Simon, ‘Meesekara’ Madaiah and Bilavendra were awarded the death penalty by the Supreme Court in 2004. They were convicted by a fast-track TADA court in Mysore in the 1993 Palar landmine blast case that killed 22 people, including five police men. While the TADA court had awarded them life imprisonment, the Supreme Court in a surprising judgment not only dismissed the appeal to reduce their sentence but enhanced the punishment to death penalty.
Asked if it Supreme Court’s decision was unusual, Ramasubramanian said: “It is not very common. The Supreme Court’s reasoning was that it was terrorist act and it brought this case into the rarest of rare category. There are many judgments which say that the court cannot intervene unless and until there are glaring mistakes and that punishment cannot be enhanced. But at this stage, we cannot argue on merits. Our line of argument now is that I’ve been on death row for nine years and I can’t be hanged now.”
BN Devadas, a Bangalore High Court lawyer who has been associated with the case, said that the family of the four prisoners had been informed of the President’s rejection of the mercy plea.
“Yesterday intimation has been given to the families. The families are in very a very bad situation. Madaiah’s son was also killed by the STF in an encounter in 1993. Bilavendra’s wife has been fighting for years to get justice for her husband,” Devadas said.
The rejection of the mercy plea of Veerappan’s aides by the President comes less than a week after the controversial execution of Afzal Guru, convicted in the 2001 Parliament attack case. Guru’s mercy petition was rejected by the President on 3 February.