The Bombay High Court on Monday commuted the death sentence of six convicts, in the infamous Khairlanji Dalit killings case, to 25 years imprisonment and fixed a similar sentence for two others serving life term.

Justice Lavande of Nagpur bench of the court held that all the eight convicts will undergo 25 years of life imprisonment including the period they have already spent in jail.

The case pertains to the brutal murder of four members of a Dalit family —— Surekha Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, her daughter Priyanka, sons Sudhir and Roshan —— by an angry mob in Khairlanji village on September 29, 2006.

Justice A. P. Lavande pronounced the judgement while Justice R C Chavan, who is on an assignment at the High Court in Mumbai, joined him via video conference here.

This is for the first time that a judgement has been pronounced by a division bench through video conference.

Pronouncing the operative part of the verdict, Justice Lavande disposed of appeals of defence as well as prosecution.

The CBI had appealed for enhancing the sentence of two convicts, who were sentenced for life. The convicts had also appealed against the sentence by the trial court at Bhandara.

The death sentence awarded by the trial court had come up before the High Court for confirmation.

The bench had heard the matter on a daily basis from March 29 and reserved it for judgement before the summer vacation.

In view of sensitivity of the matter, a tight vigil was maintained in and around the high court.

A trial court of S. S. Dass, on September 24, 2008, awarded capital punishment to six persons. Two others were given life imprisonment.

The six convicts whose death sentence has been commuted to life are Sakru Binjewar, Ramu Dhande, Shatrughan Dhande, Vishwanath Dhande, Jagdish Mandlekar and Prabhakar Mandlekar. Gopal Binjewar and Shishupal Dhande were awarded life imprisonment.

The CBI had also filed appeal against acquittal of all the eight under the Prevention of Atrocities on SC/ST Act as the victims belonged to a Dalit family from Khairlanji.

However, the High Court did not consider the CBI plea and upheld the trial court’s judgement dropping the charges under the Prevention of Atrocities Act.

The CBI Counsel Ejaz Khan demanded enhancement of sentence for two accused who were sentenced to life. He argued that trial court ought to have considered evidence which pointed out towards sexual abuse of Surekha and Priyanka.

“By dropping the atrocities charges against the accused persons, the gravity of crime has been substantially diluted,” the CBI contended.

The defence lawyers pointed out several discrepancies and omissions in the evidence produced on record. Political pressure and biased investigation has resulted in miscarriage of justice, they claimed.