The Supreme Court today stayed the execution of the four aides of slain sandalwood smuggler Veerappan till 20 February, for their involvement in carrying out a landmine blast in 1993 which killed 22 people.
"In the meantime, the execution of death sentence of four convicts shall remain stayed," a bench comprising Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and justices AR Dave and Vikramajit Sen said.
Gnanaprakasam, Bilavendra, Meesai Madhaiah and Simon are former associates of sandalwood smuggler Veerappan and had their mercy petitions rejected by the President on 13 February. The four are presently lodged in a jail in Belgaum, Karnataka.
The petition on behalf of the four convicts was filed by advocate Samik Narain, who was given the liberty to amend and rectify it, after objections were raised on its maintainability by Attorney General GE Vahanvati who was asked to assist the court.
Vahanvati questioned the maintainability of the petition on technical grounds and said the copy of the petition was neither given to the Centre nor to the Karnataka government till this morning.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioners, sought liberty from the bench to form a proper petition in a day or two.
During the brief hearing, the court said if it will issue notice, it will have to hear the matter entirely. Further, the Chief Justice said there are two options-- either this bench will have to hear the matter or it will have to refer to the bench which has been seized with the issue of
The bench said hearing this matter may also have a bearing on the petitions filed by the death row convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case against the rejection of their mercy petition.
A lawyer representing the Karnataka state government is also expected to attend the hearing of the case and is expected to make the government's stand clear on carrying out the death penalty.
One of the lawyers seeking to defend the four and familiar with the developments told Firstpost that they were not being allowed by the jail authorities to meet the four convicts.
Without signed affidavits, the lawyers were not able to approach the Karnataka High Court to seek a stay on the execution.
Expressing the urgency in the matter and their decision to seek the Supreme Court’s intervention, the lawyer said “We were running out of time. They could be hanged anytime.”
The four convicts were awarded death sentence in 2004 in connection with a landmine blast at Palar in Karnataka in 1993 in which 22 police personnel were killed.
A TADA court in Mysore had in 2001 sentenced them to life term which was enhanced to death sentence by the apex court.
Gang leader Veerappan was killed in an encounter with the Tamil Nadu police in October 2004.
According to CNN-IBN, the police authorities in the Belgaum jail had been preparing to carry out the death penalty but had not received orders from the state government yet to carry out the execution.