The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the review petition of one of the convicts in the 2012 Delhi gangrape case, reported Bar and Bench. The three-judge bench of Justices R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan and AS Bopanna said the grounds raised by Akshay Kumar Singh were identical to the ones mentioned in the review petitions filed in this case by other convicts and all of those were dismissed. “We do not find any error on the face of the record,” said the court.

The convict’s lawyer AP Singh sought three weeks’ time from the Supreme Court to file a mercy plea before the president. However, the solicitor general pointed out that the time allowed by the law was seven days. The court refused to interfere. “We are not expressing any view on this issue,” it said. “Within the ambit of law, if the relief of mercy petition is available to the petitioner, he may avail the same.”

The mother of the woman said she was very happy that the court has rejected the review petition, reported ANI. She said it was a “step closer to justice”, according to News18.

During the hearing, the convict’s lawyer AP Singh disputed the woman’s statements, claiming she was tutored. He said the woman was under the influence of morphine when she had given her statement. “Only first dying declaration should be considered,” the lawyer argued. “Akshay’s name was not there in the first declaration. Second and third one are results of tutoring. The victim was then continuously using morphine. How can she give dying declaration?”

Singh also claimed he has new facts in the case. He said that the conviction was made under pressure from the media, public and the political class. He cited the instance of the murder of a school student in Gurugram, in which a bus conductor was initially wrongly implicated due to public pressure, reported Live Law.

The lawyer pointed out that a case has also been filed against the woman’s friend, who was the sole witness, for allegedly taking bribes. When Justice Bhushan asked him how that was relevant to the case, the lawyer said, “It’s new evidence. His evidence and submissions in the case are unreliable.”

The counsel added that the rush to execute the death penalty was due to political agenda. “I cannot understand why Delhi government is rushing for hanging in this case only,” he said. “There are many other cases where crime was more heinous, and the convicts are in Tihar. This is to further political agenda.”

The lawyer argued for life imprisonment for his client by again reiterating that air and water pollution in Delhi has anyway reduced overall life expectancy.

Singh had 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 the Capital. The 32-year-old referred to the Puranas, the Vedas and Upanishads, and the example of Mahatma Gandhi to argue against the punishment.

However, Justice Bhushan interrupted the lawyer to say there was nothing new in his arguments. “In review you should tell us what is the error in judgement,” he told the counsel.

The solicitor general said same arguments were raised by other co-accused also and were rejected. “Court has held this to be rarest of rare case,” the solicitor general pointed out.

On Tuesday, Chief Justice of India SA Bobde had recused himself from hearing Kumar’s review petition. Bobde recused himself because his nephew Arjun Bobde had appeared for the family of the victim in the earlier proceedings.

The case

Singh was among the six men who raped and brutally assaulted the 23-year-old 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”.

The 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 is mentioned in our Vedas, Puranas and Upanishads that...people lived the life of thousand 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?”