The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the death sentence of the accused – Nedunchezhian, Ravindran and Muniappan – in the Dharmapuri bus burning incident, in which three college girls were killed. The death sentence, awarded by a trial court, was confirmed by the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court.
A Bench of Justices B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar, after hearing senior counsel K.K. Venugopal for the petitioners, also stayed execution of the sentence, while entertaining a writ petition filed by the three pleading for stay of the sentence on the ground that a petition seeking review of the August 30, 2010 judgment was still pending disposal.
Kokilavani, Gayathri and Hemalatha of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, were travelling along with 44 other students and two teachers, in the bus when it was torched on February 2, 2000, following the conviction of AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa in a case.
A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and B.S. Chauhan had expressed shock at the brutality of the incident and upheld the death sentence.
In the present writ petition, Muniappan and two others stated that all review petitions filed in death sentence cases should be heard in open court (normally they are heard in judge's chamber) with oral arguments and, if necessary, Supreme Court Rules, 1966, should be amended to bring about that change.
Further the petition said that as per the Law Commission's recommendation, all death penalty matter in the Supreme Court should be heard by a Bench of five judges by amending relevant Rules. It said that as recently as on November 19, 2010, the Supreme Court allowed a review petition in Ramdeo Chauhan vs Bani Kant Das, which if not allowed, would have resulted in the review petitioner being executed.
Hence all such matters should be heard by a five-judge Bench as the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.