The four death-row convicts in the Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case were set to be hanged on March 20 at 5.30 a.m.
In a last-minute plea three of them had moved the Delhi High Court on March 19 evening, challenging a trial court order declining to stay their execution. The High Court said there was no foundation in their plea. A Bench, headed by Justice Manmohan, heard the matter at 9 p.m. The plea was mentioned before the registry officials who put it up before the Chief Justice of the High Court.
The trial court had in the afternoon dismissed the plea of Akshay Kumar Singh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma, seeking to stay the death warrants. They, along with Mukesh Singh, were scheduled to be hanged on March 20.
Having exhausted all legal remedies, including mercy petitions before the President, three of the convicts met their families for the last time. The family of one did not come to visit him.
Additional sessions judge Dharmender Rana rejected the pleas of Akshay Kumar, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma seeking a stay on their execution on the ground that the second mercy plea of one of them was still pending.
Advocate A.P. Singh, representing the convicts, argued that Akshay’s wife had filed for a divorce in a Bihar court, which was pending. Responding to this, the special public prosecutor said the petition did not fall under the purview of legal remedy in the present case.
On March 5, a trial court issued fresh death warrants for March 20 at 5.30 am for Mukesh Singh (32), Pawan (25), Vinay (26) and Akshay (31).
This comes seven years after the incident in which the four death row convicts; Ram Singh, the fifth accused who has died; and a minor gang-raped a paramedic student and left her fighting for her life for 13 days before she died of her injuries.
The March 20 date has come after a series of postponements. The first death warrants were issued by a trial court on January 7 for execution on January 22 but it was postponed by the court to February 1 and then further postponed to March 3.
The night before the hanging, Tihar Jail authorities said hangman Pawan and Jail Superintendent took stock of the preparation and found everything in order. They also conducted a “mock hanging” on March 19 morning using sandbags. “Just after being told that their review petition has been rejected and their execution date was final, the four convicts started sobbing,” said the jail authorities. They have been in isolation for the past fortnight.
The gang rape and murder was followed by a public outcry that led to the passing of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act in 2013, which widened the definition of rape and made punishment more stringent. The 2013 Act, which came into effect on April 2, 2013, increased jail terms in most sexual assault cases and also provided for the death penalty in rape cases that cause death of the victim or leaves her in a vegetative state. It also created new offences, such as use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe, voyeurism and stalking. The punishment for gang rape was increased to 20 years to life imprisonment from the earlier 10 years to life imprisonment.