As the nation erupts in outrage again, demanding nothing less than death penalty for rape convicts to send a strong message to the culprits, the four men found guilty in the Nirbhaya gang-rape-and-murder case explore all their legal options to escape the noose .
The demands for death penalty cannot dictate the way the case proceeds further, neither can the execution be carried out in “secrecy” as the Supreme Court guidelines state that the jail administration has to inform the family members and relatives of the convict after his mercy petition is rejected and the scheduled date of execution is declared.
In the Shatrughan Chauhan versus Union of India case in 2014, the Supreme Court in its judgment had specified that all steps for execution of capital punishment, including informing the convict and his/her family members, are required to be taken care of by the State governments/Union Territories concerned in accordance with the jail manual.
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The court order came a year after, Afzal Guru, the convict in the 2001 Parliament attack case, was hanged “secretly” in Tihar jail on February 9, 2013 . His family members claimed they were not aware of the execution as the speed post sent by the Tihar jail authorities reached them two days after the hanging.
New prison rules
According to the Delhi Prison Rules, 2018, a minimum period of 14 days has been stipulated by the Supreme Court between the receipt of the communication of the rejection of the mercy petition and the scheduled date of execution. This is to enable the prisoner sentenced to death to prepare himself, settle his affairs and meet his family members for one last time or to avail any remaining judicial remedy.
An officer posted at Tihar prison said they strictly follow the guidelines as the entire process is transparent. Giving an example of the Nirbhaya case, he said that all convicts were informed about the seven-day time they had to file the mercy plea before the President. Using his right, one of the convicts, Vinay Sharma, has filed a mercy plea before President Ram Nath Kovind but later sought withdrawal of the petition claiming he was yet to exhaust all legal remedies available to him.
The officer said that if the President rejects a mercy petition of a convict, they apply for black warrant in the courts. It is a warrant which is taken out when a hanging has to take place.
“After the black warrant is issued, the convict is shifted to the condemned cell. In case of more than one convict, all of them are put in separate cells that are guarded round the clock. They are only allowed to meet relatives in case they want to meet them. No other person can meet them during the time,” said the officer.
The execution is carried out at ward number 8 of Jail Number 3, which is known as ‘Phansi Kothi’. An executive engineer (PWD) has to inspect the gallows before the date of hanging. The gallows is inspected and the rope tested in the presence of the jail superintendent the evening before the execution, the officer said.
“Prisoners of all categories are kept locked up until the execution is over and the body removed from the prison. The body remains suspended for half an hour before being taken down. It is handed over to the family members after post-mortem. And if they refuse to take it, it is the responsibility of the prison administration to perform the last rites,” said the officer.