Case relates to death of three girls in Dharmapuri incident

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its verdict on a batch of appeals filed by the 28 accused in the Dharmapuri bus burning case, including three, who were awarded death sentence.

The case relates to the death of three girl students – Kokilavani, Gayathri and Hemalatha – of 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 following the conviction of AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa in a criminal case.

A Bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice B.S. Chauhan reserved its verdict at the conclusion of arguments from senior counsel Altaf Ahmad for Tamil Nadu and senior counsel Sushi Kumar for the appellants-accused. Mr. Ahmad justified the award of death sentence to three key accused – C. Muniappan, Nedunchezhian and Ravindran – and submitted that there was clear evidence to suggest that the accused, all AIADMK party functionaries, were responsible for burning the bus, resulting in the death of three innocent girls.

Mr. Ahmad argued that the accused were identified by witnesses during the identification parade and the role of each one of them was corroborated by evidence. When the court wanted to know why when the bus was burning there was no attempt to save the three girls, counsel said while lives of large number of girls were saved, some could not be saved because of the magnitude of the fire.

However, Mr. Sushikumar argued that the trial was vitiated and the death sentence awarded by the trial court and confirmed by the High Court was misplaced.

There was no evidence to suggest that the three main appellants had set fire to the bus. He said the conviction was not based on credible and legally admissible evidence and was based on hearsay evidence, suspicion and presumption.

Counsel said even as per the prosecution this case fell under the exception of grave and sudden provocation in the spur of the moment. The three appellants said the courts below with a prejudiced attitude and being pressured by the existence of heavy media influence and exposure convicted them under Section 302 IPC (murder) and awarded death penalty.

On February 16, 2007, a trial court in Salem awarded death sentence to three accused and sentences of two months to two years to 25 others, who also filed appeals. The court said the sentences would run consecutively.

On appeal, the Madras High Court on December 6, 2007 confirmed the death sentence and the sentence of imprisonment imposed on others, but modified it to the extent that it would run concurrently. The Supreme Court had earlier stayed the death sentence while admitting the appeals and on Wednesday reserved the verdict.