The Supreme Court on Monday suspended till Wednesday the execution of death sentence of the four aides of sandalwood smuggler Veerappan, whose mercy petition was rejected on February 12. The kin of the four death row convicts hailed the order.
Veerappan's aides Simon, Gnana Prakash, Madhiah, Bilavendra were awarded death sentence for killing 20 Karnataka Police personnel in a landmine blast.
A bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice Anil R Dave and Justice Vikramajit Sen suspended the death sentence after senior counsel Colin Gonsalves told the court this is a case that involves inordinate delay in deciding the mercy petition.
He said another bench of the court headed by Justice GS Singhvi has already reserved judgment on the question of whether, in a case where there is inordinate delay in deciding a mercy petition, the convict is entitled to any relief or not.
In this case, the court had sought the records of all the cases of death sentences that were pending for long time.
Gonsalves told the court that the judgment was reserved eight months back and its outcome would be applicable in the case of the four Veerappan aides.
Opposing the plea, Attorney General GE Vahanvati said this was a serious crime against the state as it involves the killing of 20 police personnel in a land mine blast, and came under the category of "rarest of rare" cases.
Pointing to the manner in which petition was filed, Vahanvati told the court that petition seeking stay of the execution of death sentence was not maintainable.
The petition filed by Delhi-based advocate Shamik Narain seeking the stay of the execution of death sentence reached the apex court by a circuitous route.
The apex court was informed that Narain was filing the petition on the instruction of Mumbai- based advocate Yog Chaudhry who in turn was requested by an advocate in Tamil Nadu to file the petition on behalf of the family members of the four convicts incarcerated in Belgaum Central Prison.
The court, which was also reluctant to accept the petition in its existing format, was told by Gonsalves that he has received the vakalatnama (contract with the lawyer) of the four convicts but had the photocopies and the original vakalatnama would reach him in a day or two by courier.
Senior counsel TR Andhyarujina, who is amicus curiae along with Ram Jethmalani in Justice Singhvi's court which is examining whether there was undue delay in deciding the mercy petitions, told the court that as many as 9, 10 or even 13 years were being taken in deciding the mercy partitions.
Jethmalani urged the court not to view the matter on technicalities.
He said that an earlier bench of the apex court in its judgment had said that the trial, appeal and the mercy petition had to be decided in two years' time. He told the court this position was reaffirmed by the Britain's Privy Council and House of Lords.
The court will hear the matter on Wednesday.
The President on February 12 rejected the 2004 mercy petitions of the four, sentenced to death for killing 22 people, including policemen, in a landmine blast near Palar bridge on the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border in 1993.
Meanwhile, the kin of Madaiah said they were happy with the apex court's order.
Speaking over phone, his son M Paramasivam, a daily wage labourer in Tamil Nadu's Salem, said, "This is comforting news. We hope the hanging is put off."
Echoing him was his mother and Madaiah's wife M Thangamma, who said, "We plan to visit him next week. The stay order gives us hope."