A Division Bench of Delhi High Court has commuted the death sentence of Sonu Sardar to Life Imprisonment. He was convicted and sentenced to death for killing five members of a scrap dealer’s family in Chhattisgarh.
SC Permits Delhi High Court To Hear Death-Row Convict Lodged In Chhattisgarh [Read Orders]
The bench of Justices G.S.Sistani and Vinod Goel has allowed his petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India read with Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for quashing the orders of the President of India and the Governor of Chhattisgarh rejecting the mercy petition of the petitioner and to commute the death sentence of the petitioner into life imprisonment on account of delay, improper exercise of power and illegal solitary confinement.
Can Delhi HC Hear Plea Against Rejection Of Mercy Petition Of Convicts From Other States: SC To Examine
“We, therefore, following V. Sriharan alias Murugan commute the sentence imposed upon the petitioner and substitute it to a sentence of imprisonment for life in place of death sentence awarded to the petitioner. Life imprisonment means end of one‟s life, subject to any remission granted by the appropriate Government under Section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure; which is, in turn, subject to the procedural checks mentioned in the said provision and further substantive check in Section 433-A of the Code”, said the Bench.
The Bench has summarized its conclusion as follows;
- There is an unexplained delay of 1 year 4 months and 13 days, which though unexplained is not unreasonable nor is inordinate to be a supervening circumstance vitiating the decisions of the Governor and the President.
- Between the period 14.09.2011 to 20.10.2014 the petitioner was kept in illegal solitary confinement in absolute disregard of the judgment of the Supreme Court in Sunil Batra Case.
- The relevant considerations of the mitigating circumstances, recommendation of the jail superintendent and the young age of the petitioner were not placed before the Governor depriving him of the opportunity to exercise his power in a fair and just manner.
- The mercy petition was processed in an extremely cavalier and casual fashion by the State Government at all stages, right upto placing the note for the Governor. It was all along treated as a petition seeking pre-mature release under an inapplicable rule of the Jail Manual. The Governor was informed that the petition is for pre-mature release and not commutation of sentence.
- The inputs received from the Superintendent of Police and the District Magistrate were extraneous considerations taken into account by the Governor. Even the relevant input of the Jail Superintendent was under the incorrect rule for the wrong purpose, which was wholly ignored by the State Government and relied upon by the Union Government.
Therefore, it is clear that the combined effect of the supervening circumstance and the ignorance of relevant consideration as well as consideration of extraneous material has vitiated the decisions
Timeline of events in the case
(i)On 26.11.2004, Shamim Akhtar, a scrap dealer, his driver Asgar Ali, his wife Ruksana Bibi, daughter Rana and son Yakub were at home when five persons came there at about 7.00 p.m. on the pretext of selling scrap. They accosted Shamim Akhtar and demanded money from him by putting a knife to his throat. At that time, Shamim‟s 9 years old daughter Shabana escaped from the back door. She went to Ramlal‟s house and informed him about what was happening in the house. Ramlal attempted to go to Shamim‟s house but Shabana stopped him by saying that he should not go as he too would be assaulted. So, he did nothing for 10 hours. At 5.00 a.m. in the morning, when they went to the house, they found the dead bodies of the aforementioned five persons. The petitioner was arrested on 29.11.2004.
(ii) The trial court, vide its order dated 27.02.2008, convicted the petitioner and his co-accused under Section 396 of the Indian Penal Code and finding the crime to be rarest of the rare, sentenced them to death.
(iii) Later on, the High Court of Chhattisgarh on 08.03.2010 confirmed the death sentence of the petitioner while declaring the co-accused to be a juvenile and referring his case to the Juvenile Justice Board.
(iv) Thereafter, the Supreme Court on 23.02.2012 upheld the death sentence by dismissing the appeal filed by the petitioner [Sonu Sardar v. State of Chhattisgarh, (2012) 4 SCC 97].
(v) The petitioner submitted a mercy petition dated 20.03.2012, which was rejected by the Governor on 08.04.2013 and by the President on 05.05.2014.
(vi) On 24.05.2014, the petitioner through his lawyers wrote a letter to the President of India pointing out that his mercy petition had been dismissed on the basis of his being 23 years of age on the date of offence when, in fact, he was 18 years and 2 months old at that time. In May, 2014, the petitioner filed a review petition before the Supreme Court, inter alia on the same ground.
(vii) The petitioner also filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court praying that his death sentence be stayed during the pendency of his review petition and for open hearing of death sentence review petitions.
(viii) Thereafter, the review petition of the petitioner was ordered to be listed in open Court. However, the review petition filed by the petitioner was dismissed by a judgment dated 10.02.2014.
(ix) On 14.02.2015, the petitioner‟s lawyers by hand delivered a letter to the Jail Superintendent, Central Jail, Raipur advising the prison authorities against initiating black warrant proceedings, as the letter dated 24.05.2014 was still pending before the President of India.
(x) He had challenged the President’s rejection of his mercy petition before the Delhi High Court raising the issue of delay, non-application of mind, ignorance of relevant considerations and without taking into account that he was kept in solitary confinement.
Then the state of Chhattisgarh filed a petition challenging the maintainability of the petition before Delhi High Court. However, the division bench of Delhi High Court rejected the contention and held that the court has jurisdiction to hear the plea of death convict. Apparently, the bench refers to a full bench decision authored by Justice Dipak Misra when he was serving as judge of the Delhi High Court.
Then the Chattisgarh Government moved Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court order. By its order dated 12th June, 2017 the Supreme Court permitted Delhi High Court to hear the petition.