Sunday, June 19, 2011

They haven’t found a hangman yet, have they?

Vijay (Hiremath) calls me up and says, “Did you read that Mahendra Das and Prof. Bhullar’s mercy petitions have been rejected by the President’s office?” I was on one of my fieldwork trips and was shocked to hear this news! He put me in touch with Yug Chaudhry who wanted to work on this case. We contacted the prison and then the relatives of Mahendra Das. Yug worked on the draft and contacted several others. He asked me a day before we left for Guahati, “Reena will you come also for this hearing?” I thought I must go because I knew the family by then and I had interviewed Mahendra Das just a few weeks before his petition was rejected by our the $President. We reached Guahati High Court next day i.e. 7th June 2011 at 12:45 pm and the petition was already filed by Adv. Arup Borbora. We met all the lawyers and also the relatives. Das’s mother – Kusum Bala Das cried silently most of the time. His sister told me, “If anything happens to our brother, we all will kill ourselves.”
In the meantime,Adv. Arup Borbora asked for a special bench of two judges to be created and it was done as this was a special matter. The court proceedings began at 3:45 where a special bench of judges (Justice BP Katakey and Justice BK Sharma) was constituted to hear this matter as the Chief Justice was out of town. The counsel on behalf of the mother were Senior Advocates A.K. Bhattacharya, Arup Borbora and Yug Chaudhry. We were in Court Room No. 4 where the relatives asked me sit beside them. I sat next to them of course - more than for them, it was for my own contentment. The counsel Adv. Bhattacharya spoke and his opening line was, “There is a lawyer named Yug Chaudhry coming all the way from Mumbai for this.” The judge immediately said, “So what difference does it make?” Adv. Bhattacharya’s response was “Yes it makes a difference; it makes a difference because nobody in Assam came forward for this and it took a Human Rights advocate from Mumbai to do this. So it makes a difference” The judge had to agree.
The arguments went on. The judge asked, “So why have you come to the High Court? Why not go to the Apex Court?” Adv. Bhattacharya’s response every time was really good. He said, “Yes we should go to the Supreme Court. But who would go? This old mother? (Pointing at the mother) Do you think she’s in a capacity to go? Even if she goes, don’t you think that Mahendra Das will be hanged by then?” The question raised was to seek an explanation for the inordinate delay from President’s office.
The judge asked the State lawyers and all they could say was “How can we not listen to the Supreme court’s orders?” They have been asked to file a reply before the next hearing on 17th June. The judges gave a very positive order stating Triveniben (SCR p.596: SCC p.357: SCC (Cri) p.474, para 20). Till then the proposed execution of the man remained in suspension.
The next hearing took place on 17th July 2011. The family came to the court. We didn’t know till our matter came up that the State had filed a reply. However the Centre did not and hence we were given another date which is 21st July 2011. The family invited me to their home. I couldn’t say no. I travelled for three hours to reach their house. Mahendra Das’s house is in a pitiful state. A heavy rain can demolish the whole structure. The family has a hand to mouth existence. I wonder how they managed to come to Guahati High Court for the hearing spending so much of money! The mother spoke only in Assamese. His sister translated it for me. She asked me, “So when is my son going to be released?” I didn’t have an answer. The sister asked me, “So what will happen? Will his sentence be commuted to life?” I said, “We all are hoping for that but one simply cannot say ‘It will be done’. There is a great possibility that they might just reject it in the High Court. But we all still hope that the Court and the State of Assam will do everything in their power to commute this sentence”. She again asked, “But they haven’t found a hangman yet, have they?” I couldn’t bring myself to lie, I said, “If I am not mistaken, they have found a hangman from Meerut”. We all were silent for a moment. I again told them that, “We all hope that our country realizes that it is barbaric to execute a person after 15 years in the prison”. The relatives dropped me back in Guahati, asked me to come back again when Mahendra Das is home. I nodded and left.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Death in drug case: Discretion with judge

The verdict came following a petition filed by the Indian Harm Reduction Network (IHRN), a registered consortium of NGOs working for humane drug policies. The NGO had moved the HC after Ghulam Malik, accused in an NDPS case, was awarded the death sentence by a special court in December 2007, as it was his second. The petitioners challenged the constitutional validity of Section 31(A), which prescribes mandatory death sentence for certain drug offences upon subsequent conviction.

The NGO's counsel, Anand Grover, and advocate Vijay Hiremath, and the convict's advocate, H E Mooman, argued the provision was arbitrary and disproportionate. Grover pointed out that it prevented individualized sentencing and denied the accused a chance to be heard on the question of sentence.

In Satya Narayan Dash's affidavit, under secretary, finance ministry, had justified the death penalty saying it was applicable only to categories of offences involving commercial quantity of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances.

Hetal Vyas, TNN Jun 17, 2011, 07.42am IST
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