Holding that the act of the three accused — Nedunchezhian, Ravindran and Muniappan — in burning a bus at Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu and killing three innocent college girls showed the highest degree of depravity and brutality, the Supreme Court on Monday confirmed the death sentence awarded to them by the Madras High Court.
The case relates to the death of Kokilavani, Gayathri and Hemalatha of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore. The bus in which they were travelling along with 44 other students and two teachers was torched on February 2, 2000, after the conviction of AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa in a criminal case.
A Bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice B.S. Chauhan expressed concern that a large number of people, including shopkeepers, journalists and policemen on duty did not intervene to rescue the girl students when the bus was burning. “Even if the common man fails to respond to the call of his conscience, the police should not have remained inactive,” the Bench said.
On February 16, 2007, a trial court in Salem awarded the death sentence to the three accused and jail terms of two months to two years to 25 others, who also filed appeals. On appeal, the Madras High Court on December 6, 2007 confirmed the trial court's order.
Dismissing the appeals of the three accused, the Supreme Court said: “The manner of the commission of the offence is extremely brutal, diabolical, grotesque and cruel. It is shocking to the collective conscience of society. We do not see any cogent reason to interfere with the punishment of death sentence awarded to the three accused by the courts below.”
The Bench held that this case was one of the rarest of rare cases warranting the death sentence and there were no mitigating circumstance to interfere with the death sentence awarded by the courts below.
In respect of the 25 other accused, the Bench reduced their term to the sentences already undergone by them. Since all of them were on bail, the Bench said their bail bonds stood discharged.
Writing the judgment, Justice Chauhan said: “The girl students of the university, while on tour, had been the victims of a heinous crime at the tail end of their programme. The appellants may have had a grievance and a right of peaceful demonstration, but they cannot claim a right to cause grave inconvenience and humiliation to others, merely because a competent criminal court has handed down a judicial pronouncement that is not to their liking.”
The Bench said: “A demonstration by the appellants, which had started peacefully, took an ugly turn when the appellants started damaging public transport vehicles. Damaging the public transport vehicles did not satisfy them and they became the law unto themselves. There can be absolutely no justification for the commission of such a brutal offence. Causing the death of three innocent young girls and causing burn injuries to another 20 is an act that shows the highest degree of depravity and brutality on the part of the three accused.”