Tamil Nadu

SC commutes death penalty of Dharmapuri bus burning convicts to life

File photo of the ill-fated TNAU bus, in which three girl students were burnt alive during a mob violence in Dharmapuri on February 02, 2000.

File photo of the ill-fated TNAU bus, in which three girl students were burnt alive during a mob violence in Dharmapuri on February 02, 2000.  

Sixteen years after they torched a bus and burnt to death three college girls while protesting the arrest of AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa, the Supreme Court commuted the death penalty of three convicts into life imprisonment, saying the incident happened in a flash during mob frenzy and is not pre-meditated.

Rolling back their own judgment confirming the death penalty awarded to the three men, the Supreme Court accepted their defence of "diminished responsibility" and reasoned that the convicts had not even know their victims and their crime did not deserve the death penalty.

A tri-judge Bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi agreed with defence counsel L. Nageshwar Rao that mobs go berserk and possess a demented sight of what is around them.

State of Tamil Nadu, the prosecuting agency in the case, left it to the Bench to decide the case on merits.

In an earlier hearing on the review petition, Mr. Rao had referred to the riots after the killing of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, to argue that the accused, who were part of a rampaging mob, cannot be held fully criminally liable for the crime as their mental capacity were impaired at the time.

To buttress the point, one of the defence counsel, senior advocate Sushil Kumar, had said “in the south people worship their leaders and on their death even kill themselves".

“Mobs go berserk. Reason does not enter their minds. After the judgment at 10.30 am, the agitations had started. There was absolutely no pre-meditation. There was a workshop nearby, they took petrol from there and started sprinkling it on the buses,” Mr. Rao had recounted the fateful day.

Mr. Kumar said the accused were only “looking for some government property to destroy and were not targeting human lives”.

Mr. Rao argued that death was too harsh a punishment as the convicts had no personal animosity towards their victims and were themselves the victims of mob psychology.

The review petition of the three death row convicts - Nedunchezhian, Ravindran and Muniappan – is being heard after a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ordered limited, open court hearing before a three-judge Bench in case of death penalty reviews.

The Dharmapuri case relates to the death of three students – Kokilavani, Gayathri and Hemalatha – of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, when the bus they were travelling in along with 44 other students and two teachers were torched by the three convicts on February 2, 2000, after the conviction of Ms. Jayalalithaa in a criminal case.

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Printable version | Aug 11, 2020 2:49:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/SC-commutes-death-penalty-of-Dharmapuri-bus-burning-convicts-to-life/article14149682.ece

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