Chief Justice of India SA Bobde on Tuesday recused himself from hearing the review petition of one of the convicts in the 2012 Delhi gangrape case, Bar and Bench reported. He will set up a new bench to hear the plea on Wednesday.
A three-judge bench, comprising Bobde and Justices Ashok Bhushan and Justice R Banumathi, was scheduled to hear the plea on Tuesday. Bobde recused himself because his nephew Arjun Bobde had appeared for the family of the victim in the earlier proceedings, according to Live Law.
Last year, the top court had rejected the review petitions filed by three of the four men convicted of raping a 23-year-old paramedical student in New Delhi in 2012. Akshay Kumar Singh, the fourth convict, had not filed a review plea against the death penalty given to him so far.
Singh filed the review petition last week, making bizarre arguments against the death penalty, such as already-shortened life spans due to bad air and water in Delhi. The 32-year-old referred to the Puranas, the Vedas and Upanishads, and the example of Mahatma Gandhi to argue against the punishment.
Singh was among the six men who raped and brutally assaulted the student in a moving bus on the night of December 16, 2012. The woman succumbed to her injuries two weeks later at a hospital in Singapore. The gangrape had triggered huge protests in the Capital and across the country.
One convict died in prison, while a minor convict was sent to a detention home for juveniles and was released in December 2015. The four other convicts were awarded the death penalty – first by a trial court in September 2013, which was upheld by the Delhi High Court six months later and the Supreme Court in May 2017.
Three of the four men – Vinay Sharma, Mukesh Singh and Pawan Gupta – filed review petitions against the punishment, but the Supreme Court rejected them in July 2018. They are currently lodged in Tihar Jail in Delhi. In December 2018, the Supreme Court had dismissed a petition seeking the immediate execution of the four men.
In October, Tihar jail officials informed the four convicts that they had exhausted all their options for legal recourse, and were only left with the choice to file a mercy petition before the president of India against their sentence. Their deadline was November 5. Of the four, only Vinay Sharma filed a petition. The Delhi government recommended that his mercy petition be rejected as his was among the “most heinous crimes”.
Convict’s review petition
In his petition, Singh asked the court why it was continuing to sentence convicts to death, claiming that lives were already getting shorter. The convict claimed that the time of “Satyayug”, when people lived long lives, was now over.
“Why death penalty when age is reducing...it is mentioned in our Vedas, Puranas and Upanishads that...people lived the life of thousand years...now it is Kalyug, in this era, age of human beings has reduced much [in life span],” the plea said. “It has now come to 50-60 years...this is almost a true analysis...when a person faces stark realities of life, then he is no better than a dead body.”
“Everyone is aware of what is happening in Delhi NCR [National Capital Region] in regard to water and air,” Singh said. “Life is going from short to shorter, then why death penalty?”
“The death penalty is the premeditated and cold blooded killing of a human being by the state in the name of justice,” he said. Singh claimed that the institution of capital punishment is an effort by the government to “promote simplistic responses to complex human problems rather than pursuing their root causes”. The plea also sought reforms in the criminal justice system and argued that the certainty, not severity, of punishment was an effective deterrent against crimes.
The plea also quoted Mahatma Gandhi’s advice to people faced with difficult questions in life: “Recall the face of the poorest and most helpless man whom you may have seen and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he be able to gain anything by it?”