Despite a Delhi court issuing a death warrant to hang the four convicts in the Nirbhaya rape and murder case on February 1, it is almost impossible to send them to the gallows on that day. Looking at the legal provisions and Supreme Court judgments, it will take at least a month to decide a conclusive date for their hanging. In Shatrughan Chauhan vs Union of India (2014), the Supreme Court said: “It is necessary that a minimum period of 14 days be stipulated between the receipt of communication of the rejection of the mercy petition and the scheduled date of execution.” The Delhi Jail Manual too says a convict on death row should be given 14 days after the dismissal of his mercy petition by the President.
“If they don’t file any curative or mercy petition, we can execute them on February 1,” says Raj Kumar, additional inspector general, Tihar jail. Two of the convicts—Pawan Gupta and Akshay—are yet to file a curative petition, but their lawyer confirmed that he would file the petition on their behalf in the Supreme Court. The jail manual says a death convict can file a mercy petition within seven days of the rejection of his curative petition. The mercy petition of Vinay Sharma, another convict, has led to an unusual controversy. Vinay’s lawyer A.P. Singh claims his client never filed a petition, but Raj Kumar says Vinay filed his mercy petition with his thumb impression and signature on November 8, and it was sent to the Delhi government’s home department. According to reports, the mercy petition has been rejected by the lieutenant governor and is pending with President Ram Nath Kovind.
The jail manual says all convicts in the same case have to go to the gallows together. Nobody can be hanged so long as anyone’s petition is pending. Singh alleges that the jail authorities conspired to exhaust his client’s legal remedies fast in order to minimise delay in the hanging of all four convicts.
“If the President rejects Vinay’s petition, he can challenge its genuineness in a court of law, which can delay his execution,” says another lawyer, who doesn’t want to be identified. “If the court accepts his contention, not only will he get an opportunity to file another mercy petition, he can also ask for an inquiry into the alleged conspiracy.” Meanwhile, the Centre has moved the apex court to give a death convict just seven days, not 14, after dismissal of a mercy petition.