Court issues notices to Centre, Assam government

The Gauhati High Court by an interim order on Tuesday stayed the execution of death sentence on Mahendra Nath Das, who has been sentenced to death in a murder case and currently lodged in upper Assam's Jorhat Central Jail. The court also issued notices to the Centre and the Assam government to file affidavits by June 17, explaining why it took 12 years to dispose of the mercy petition of Das.

Arrangement for gallows

Authorities of Central Jail, Jorhat have already initiated arrangement for installing the gallows for execution of the death sentence, while prison authorities in the State are on the lookout for a hangman after 20 long years, as President Pratibha Patil on May 25 rejected the clemency plea.

Das was sentenced to death in 1997 for murdering Harakanta Das in Fancybazar locality in broad daylight here on April 24, 1996. The death sentence was confirmed by the High Court in February 1998, while the Supreme Court rejected the appeal in 1999. A mercy petition was filed in 2000 but was decided only on May 25, 2011.

Notices issued

Senior lawyer Arup Borbora told The Hindu that a Division Bench of the Court, comprising Justices B.K. Sarma and B.P. Katakey admitted a petition filed by Kusumbala Das, the mother, pleading for changing the death sentence to life imprisonment. The court issued notices to Ministry of Home Affairs, Department of Home, Government of Assam, Inspector of Prisons, Assam, asking them to file affidavit explaining the reasons behind the inordinate delay in disposal of the mercy petition, he added.

Apart from advocate Borbora, senior advocate of Gauhati High Court A.K. Bhattacharjee and senior advocate Yog Chaudhury of the Bombay High Court represented the petitioner.

Family relieved

Das' mother and his sister told journalists on the court premises, that they were quite relieved by the interim stay. Ms. Kusumbala Das hoped that her son would be spared the death sentence and allowed to return home.

The last hangings in Assam took place in Jorhat Central Jail in 1989 and 1990. On November 20, 1989, Henry W. Robert of Sivasagar, who was convicted of kidnapping and murdering a young boy in Tinsukia, was hanged. This was followed by the hanging of Kanpai Buragohain of Dhemaji district convicted of multiple murders, on July 27, 1990.

Mahendra Nath Das is now kept confined in an isolated cell meant for condemned prisoners.